Shredded Zucchini with Deconstructed Pesto

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Ben Gebo Photography

STRATEGY SESSION: Zucchini are low in fat and calories. They also have a low carbohydrate density and low glycemic index. Here I intensify their delicate flavor (and improve their occasionally soggy texture) with Salt-Mediated Dehydration. The pine nuts are toasted for maximum impact. Finally, the Pooling Oil technique is used to get the most out of the olive oil and  garlic.


Remember osmosis? It’s science; it’s cool; and it works as well in the kitchen as it does in nature. When you surround plant cells with salt, they give up their water without a fight, and you end up with concentrated flavors and al dente textures. I’ve applied this technique to all sorts of summer squashes, eggplants, cucumbers, and cabbages with excellent results all around, but it really makes zucchini blossom!

For variety, substitute Pecorino Romano for the Parmesan and pistachios for the pine nuts.

Serving suggestions: This side dish is perfect with virtually any Italian-inspired protein that does not have a strong herb focus. I recently served it with Tilapia Agrodolce (coming soon to Recipe of the Week), but I have also served it with grilled lamb, beef, veal, and shrimp. It’s also a terrific accompaniment to a grilled steak or veal chop- even without Italian overtones.

Note: The high sodium content of this recipe is misleading. Much of the added salt goes down the drain with the extracted water, but-since it’s impossible to calculate how much-I used the full 2 teaspoons as the basis for the nutritional analysis.[/donotprint]


Shredded Zucchini with Deconstructed Pesto 

  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Shred the zucchini in a food processor fitted with a shredding disc. Transfer to a colander set over a bowl and toss with the salt. Allow to drain for 30 minutes.
  2. Spread out a dish towel and cover with a layer of paper towels. Spread the zucchini thinly over the paper towels. Cover with another layer of paper towels and top with another dish towel. Starting at one end, tightly roll up the zucchini in the towels like a jelly roll. Squeeze and twist the roll to remove as much water as possible from the zucchini. Unroll, remove the top layer of towels and, using a rubber spatula, gently scrape the zucchini off the bottom layer of towels into a bowl.  
  3. Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add the oil in a little pool; do not spread it around. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook about 1 minute, stirring gently so as not to disperse the pool. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the zucchini to the skillet along with the pine nuts. Cook, tossing gently, until just heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the basil, cheese, and pepper to taste. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

Per serving: 66 calories, 4 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 5 g total carbohydrate, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g protein, 746 mg sodium




  • May 31 2010, 7:40 AM
    Renee Florsheim

    What a great idea! I often shred zucchini like this and “saute” it in a little chicken broth with garlic salt as a side dish, but this looks and sounds wonderful! My kitchen is packed up for the move, but as soon as I make it to L.A., I will be trying this!

  • May 31 2010, 7:59 AM

    I think you’d really enjoy it.

  • May 31 2010, 5:22 PM

    This looks absolutely delicious, but I’m concerned about the high levels of sodium. Would it be possible to make it with a smaller amount of salt, or perhaps eliminate the salt altogether?

  • May 31 2010, 5:36 PM

    As I state in the note above, the high sodium count in the nutritional analysis is misleading. Much of the added salt goes down the drain with the extracted water, but-without a laboratory- it’s impossible to calculate how much. Therefore, I used the full 2 teaspoons as the basis for the nutritional analysis. This led to an artificially inflated sodium count. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the actual sodium content is. You can, of course, try this recipe with less salt or no salt, but I have no idea what the outcome will be. It’s only by extracting water that you can create the fluffy texture and intensify the vegetable’s flavor. However, you might end up with something different that’s equally good. Let me know how you make out with it.

  • June 1 2010, 1:44 AM

    I love zucchini and am always looking for new ways to prepare it! I’m sure to have an abundance in my garden this year. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  • June 1 2010, 7:12 AM

    If you like it with the pine nuts and Parmesan, you should also try the variation with pistachios and Pecorino.

  • June 1 2010, 6:05 PM

    Delicious side dish especially since zucchini season is coming up! And a great substitute for the calorie-laden pesto pasta salad that I love. I’m always up for adding more green to my food!

  • June 1 2010, 10:28 PM

    What a great idea! Sounds delicious and healthy!

    Delightful Bitefuls

  • June 2 2010, 9:42 AM

    Delicious! I am glad you were generous with the garlic as I personally need a lot of garlic to be satisfied! Love the idea behind this dish; it looks very elegant

  • June 2 2010, 12:23 PM

    I am so glad you agree with me on the garlic. Especially in this setting (quasi-pesto), you don’t want to be timid about it!

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