Zoodles with Sun Dried Tomato & Walnut Pesto
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I’ve enjoyed cooking for years, from making apple pancakes on weekend mornings with Mom in my youth and the annual cookie day before Christmas with Grandma to the quick weeknight meals and the rare but wonderful relaxing Saturdays with Cory creating elaborate brunches or dinners for friends, family, or just ourselves. I love those times of peace and calm with the people I care about, creating something together and then sharing it; there’s something magical and grounding and utterly wonderful to me about making delicious food.
However, despite the years of cooking and all the techniques and tricks, flavor combinations, and unique ingredients or spices I’ve learned and discovered along the way, for so long, I always created meal plans around specific recipes. We have cookbooks galore, and I love to peruse them, occasionally even bringing stacks of them to bed with me where I can get all comfy cozy while jotting down recipes I want to try in one of my many notebooks.
I adored my favorite foodie bloggers (Sarah B. at My New Roots and Angela Liddon at Oh She Glows) from afar, in awe of their perfect, healthy creations and their seemingly endless creativity, but I avoided creating anything on my own or trying something new. On the occasions I did experiment, I deflated quickly if I my creation didn’t turn out fantastic on the first try (my perfectionism in overdrive, no doubt).
As soon as we started talking seriously about blogging, though, I began shifting my mentality. I started allowing myself more time and freedom to experiment and play with recipe ideas, and now when they take a few tries, it feels more like progress and tinkering and less like failure. Now there’s a purpose to my attempts, and while I’ve not yet reached the level of my favorite blogging food goddesses, I’m truly enjoying the journey and revelling in the process. It’s been liberating and exciting; I’ll wander the grocery store or farmer’s market and begin mentally creating a dish around whatever ingredients strike my fancy. I feel more inclined to trust my instincts and knowledge and less afraid to fail (something I’ve struggled with my entire life). I’ve spent years telling myself that my creativity could only come from my music, the craft I’ve studied my entire adult life, and now I’ve finally given myself permission again to be creative in other realms. It’s a wonderful change, and a gentle reminder of the power of perspective.
Now as we meal plan, I’m looking not only at cookbooks and food blogs but within myself as well. We have dozens of recipe ideas listed out these days, and on those nights when we have no plan and nothing in the freezer, I find myself turning to the pantry and refrigerator for meal inspiration instead of a take-out menu. In fact, one of those evenings resulted in the pesto for this recipe, and much to my delight, it came together quickly, easily, and with minimal adjusting! We had some basil from our herb garden and a box of lentil or bean-based pasta in the pantry to try, so I figured I’d give basic pesto a bit of a makeover with what we had on hand.
Though I love pine nuts, they’re pricier and we don’t use them as regularly as other nuts, meaning they’re rarely on-hand at our place; instead, I went with Walnuts to retain some of that earthy flavor. While I’m not much of a red-sauce fan for pasta, Cory enjoys it, so I thought I’d add some Sun-Dried Tomatoes to mix it up a bit and give him a bit of the tomatoey goodness he likes so well. Add the basil, garlic, and some dried spices to ramp up the flavor, and you’ve got a tasty, different twist on pesto that’s perfect for any pasta!
Now if you’ve been looking to eat healthier, you may well be cutting back on things like breads and pasta; in it’s traditional forms, those wheaty noodles, while delicious, aren’t the greatest for us. They’re super carb-heavy and not particularly nutritionally dense; luckily, there are several great pasta products on the market today geared towards improving the nutritional quality of various pastas without sacrificing the texture we know and love. Depending on what your pasta is made from, the taste will differ from its typical counterpart, but we’ve found we actually really enjoy the unique flavor imparted by the various legumes that make up these pastas! If you’re up for some experimenting in your pasta future, we’ve had great luck with several varieties from both the Explore Cuisine and Tolerant brands. If you’d like to replicate traditional pasta as closely as possible, I recommend searching out chickpea pastas; thus far, they seem nearest in texture and taste to wheat pastas.
However, if you’re ready for some serious vegetable magic, stay with me here and make your own pasta out of zucchini!! Now I know for several of you, this is old hat; you’ve got your spiralizer ready to go, and you’ve been around the Pinterest block… zoodles are nothing new to you. That’s great! Skip ahead to the recipe, you spiralizing fiend; you know what’s up. If you’ve not made noodles from squash before, however, it couldn’t be simpler. I love our Paderno Spiralizer; it’s got multiple blade options, stays put on the counter with its suction cup feet, and can be tossed in the top rack of the dishwasher when you’re done (just make sure to rinse it first, as it can stain if you’re spiralizing something like red cabbage or beets).
There are two noodle blade sizes with our spiralizer, and you can see in the picture the size difference in the zoodles; I’d stick with the little ones. Cut the ends of your zucchini, stick it on the handle, and spiralize away! You’ll end up with piles of these lovely, thin green noodles; they’re just so much fun! Zoodles will definitely cook down, however, and will release water/juice as they sit, so make sure to drain thoroughly after cooking and before mixing in the pesto. Since they are naturally moist, though, I found I didn’t need to add as much extra oil when making the pesto for the zoodles instead of for regular pasta. If you’re in need of a quick side instead of a meal, feel free to omit the mushrooms; it’s still delicious but a little lighter.
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- 1 C Walnuts
- 1/2 C Sun Dried Tomatoes Packed in Olive Oil (with some of the oil)
- 1/3 C Basil, lightly packed (can sub baby spinach for a different tasty twist!)
- 3 Large Cloves Garlic
- 1/2 tsp. Dried Oregano
- 1/4 tsp. Dried Rosemary
- 1/4 tsp. Dried Thyme
- 1/8 tsp. Salt
- 1-2 tsp. Olive Oil
- 6 Medium Zucchini
- 1.5 lb. Mushrooms
- 3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Slice the mushrooms, toss them with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and spread them out on a large baking sheet alongside the walnuts. Salt and pepper the mushrooms.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until walnuts are fragrant and golden; watch them carefully towards the end, as they can burn.
- Remove the walnuts when ready, and leave the mushrooms to roast for an additional 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Using a food processor or high speed blender, combine the toasted walnuts, sun dried tomatoes, basil, garlic, spices, and salt until smooth. Add an additional 1-2 tsp of olive oil to taste/to reach desired consistency. (If you're using pesto with traditional pasta, you may need a bit more)
- Cut the ends off each zucchini, and attach the zucchini to the spiked handle of your spiralizer, fitted with the small noodle blade (the one with little triangles).
- With even pressure, spiralize all zucchinis into noodles.
- Working in two batches, add 1 Tbsp. oil per batch to large pan with tall sides (or wok), and sauté the noodles over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until slightly softened, stirring occasionally to keep noodles from sticking to the pan.
- Drain for a few minutes in a colander to ensure excess moisture has been removed, and repeat with remaining batch.
- Return the noodles to the pan and add the mushrooms, heating through. If additional juices are released, drain once more.
- Add the pesto, combining well, and add salt and pepper to taste!
- I don't like a lot of additional oil in my pestos, but if you feel you need a bit more, I recommend adding it to the pasta at the end, as the additional moisture from the zoodles will mix well with the slightly drier pesto.
- We use about 2/3 of a batch of pesto for our pasta, but others like it more sauced!
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Do you have a favorite spiralized vegetable recipe? Let me know in the comments section! Make sure to subscribe to Our Sweetly Spiced Life for DIY projects, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, and stay in touch via Facebook; we’d love to hear from you!