zucchini strand spaghetti

Believe it or not, I’ve actually cooked dinner a few times this month. Like, three! Maybe even four. I don’t know, does a corn tortillas chmeared with refried beans, salsa and toasted with some shredded cheese on top count as dinner? Oh it does? Then definitely, most certainly four. We’re all about the refined eatin’ at the smittenkitchen.

zucchini strands

But this dish is a winner. In fact, if I weren’t working on a few humongous projects right now I would have made it again, maybe even twice. It’s the perfect antidote to the simultaneous and conflicting internal dialogue of “I’m craving a big bowl of spaghetti!” and “But it’s bathing suit season!” Also, it’s really nice to find ways to lighten up pasta when it is hot and sticky and borderline-rainy every single day and you’re beginning to believe that you might not get to the beach even once this summer, prepared or not.

whole wheat spaghetti

The recipe comes from Michael Chiarello and I’d seen him make it a few years ago on his Food Network show, back when they played it more than once a week, on Mondays, at 1 a.m. (Fine, I’m exaggerating, but that was indeed the last time I saw it, and it was DVRed .) It was one of those “here, I cook healthy too” episodes that always make me giggle because they usually so eloquently sum up our American confusion over what “healthy” actually means (see this cake for further evidence).


But I think Chiarello really got the idea, or at least the one I buy into–cutting the starchiness of pasta with something delicious and seasonal, and really balancing out the dish. I had to file the recipe away until I finally broke down and bought a cheap-o mandoline last year, and though I think you could pull this off without one–or at least a julienne peeler–I don’t know, it just sounds like a lot of work if you don’t have the julienning skills of some people.

baby cocotte

Beyond that, it’s really simple. You boil some thin spaghetti (or in our case, the thick stuff, but only because we grabbed the wrong size) and in the last minute or two, pop a steamer with an equal weight of julienned zucchini strands over the cooking pot to soften them. Cook some garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, and toss this all together with some reserved pasta water and you’ve got dinner.

basil oil

I showed off a little, making a quick basil oil (which was awesome, and I cannot stop thinking about it since) but time is of the essence, you could just toss some into the dish. I mean, who would I be to give you a hard time about needing to cut the steps down? I’ve ordered a frisee salad from one block away no less than four times in the last two weeks. It’s difficult to type when you’re hanging your head in shame.

zucchini strand spaghetti, minutes before its demise

Oh, you wanted to hear about the wedding cake? Hear about it you will! And then some! Oh, and then a little more, until you finally revolt. I just thought we’d break it up a little bit with things that don’t involve butter, eggs and my ongoing panic attack. I can’t thank you all enough for coming out in droves and offering up so much advice. It is making this all so much more manageable. Next episodes: Mango curd and a cake-tasting!

One year ago: Strawberry Chiffon Shortcake [Look at that, I was making another cake! Shocking.]

Zucchini Strand Spaghetti
Adapted from Michael Chiarello

As I’ve mentioned before, Chiarello has wonderful recipes but I can’t resist cutting out a few steps or we’d be using every dish in the apartment. Still, the link is up there to the original if you want to go that route. In the meanwhile, for the rest of us, here’s a simplified version of a really simple, wonderful dish that I could see quickly becoming a summer staple.

Servings: We got a solid four dinner servings out of this

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound whole-wheat dried spaghettini
3/4 pound zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus a small piece

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.

While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, cut the zucchini with the fine French-fry cutter on a mandoline. If you do not have one, cut by hand into the longest, finest julienne you can manage. Season with salt and pepper. If your zucchini is very finely cut, it does not need to be cooked. Otherwise, place in a colander, suspend over the pasta pot, cover the pot, and steam the zucchini until still slightly crunchy, about 2 minutes.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic and saute briefly until light brown. Turn on the exhaust fan and add the red pepper flakes. Quickly mix in the basil and remove from the heat. When the pasta is al dente, drain through a colander, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Pour the pasta into a warm serving bowl; add the zucchini, basil oil (optional, recipe below), the garlic mixture, and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Toss well, adding cooking water as needed to make a smooth sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, as needed. Grate about 2 tablespoons Parmesan over the top and serve at once.

Basil Oil (or any other herb-flavored olive oil)

Makes 1 1/3 cups

For soft herbs, such as basil, parsley, cilantro or tarragon: Use 4 cups packed leaves to 2 cups pure olive oil.

For woody herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano or lemon verbena: Use 1 cup packed leaves to 2 cups pure olive oil.

In a blender, puree the herbs and oil until completely smooth. Put the mixture in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over moderate heat. Simmer for 45 seconds, then pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Don’t press on the mixture, but you can tap the strainer against your hand to get the oil to drip through faster.

[Chirello has steps here to strain again through a coffee filter and let it settle for a few hours but I skipped all this and still had a gorgeous, delicious, unbelievably potent basil oil.]

Note: Fresh herb oils are better to toss into pasta at the end rather than cook with, so the oil keeps its fresh, uncooked taste.

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90 comments on zucchini strand spaghetti

  1. Taryn

    I totally see this as a way to get my boyfriend to eat his veggies. (“What? No, honey, that’s just green spaghetti.”) It looks fabulous. Of course, most things from Chiarello’s kitchen look fabulous. I know his show is only on at 11:30 eastern on weekdays, and also on Saturdays, but so early that I can’t even imagine waking up to see it.

  2. Jen

    That looks great for this hot-and-wet weather. How much of that basil oil do you add to the dish itself? All 1 1/3 cups? Seems like a lot for 3/4 lb of pasta, but I bet it’s tasty that way, too.

  3. That is awesome looking spaghetti. I was always interested in spaghetti substitutes such as shredded vegetables for added flavor. Might be a pain to do it by hand though….Love the sauce though. Nothing like a simple olive oil or butter dressing for pasta.

  4. anna

    Hi Deb! just a quick question before i make this (like right now- what a satisfying feeling to have everything you need in your kitchen)

    you say if the zuchini is cut thin enough, it doesn’t need to be cooked. Did you cook yours? just so i can judge from the image (and from we owning the same cheap mandoline). Thanks!!

  5. deb

    Great question, actually. I ended up having very thin zucchini and thinking that the heat of the hot spaghetti would be enough to wilt it. I found it a little too crunchy, and would definitely steam it next time as directed–more to soften the skin than the already-soft flesh. Hope you like it!

  6. Exhaust fan–hah! Okay, other than that, this sounds wonderful–I’ve been eating zucchini and squash like crazy lately. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Thanks for the basil oil tips – I’m going to try it out this weekend. I make almost exactly the same pasta except instead of red pepper flakes I use the juice and zest of a fresh lemon which makes it about as refreshing as pasta can get, I think. I look forward to trying your recipe!

  8. Anne

    Hi Deb,

    I am a reader and longtime fan of your site… this is my first comment though : )Just wanted to tell you, I just saw Michael Chiarello on FineLiving channel hosting a show called Napa Style. Not sure if it’s old or new but he looked a little different….I love him and the show was great…

    I am so looking forward to wedding cake updates, it will be wonderful!

    Anne in CT : )

  9. OK! I have the main ingredients for this is my garden. This makes me feel like I have a properly stocked kitchen probably for the first time ever since I started reading this blog. YAY!! I feel so validated right now.

  10. Quick Q: The recipe calls for parsely but not listed in the ingredients. Should it be the same amount as the basil? I have a WHOLE LOT OF parsley going on in the garden, so any opportunity to use a bunch of it is an excellent one.

  11. deb

    Whoops — the original recipe did but I skipped it. Just an editing error. He suggests a parsley-basil oil and chiffonade but I felt that the basil was enough.

  12. Mireille

    Out of curiosity and off the subject, will there be recipes for the cakes?
    Of course, the spaghetti dish looks delicious.

  13. If you don’t have a mandolin (or don’t want to buy one) you can get a julienne peeler for about $5-$10 at any kitchen supply store or large chain (I got mine at Target.) Works like a beaut and very quick.

  14. Squash and zuchini will soon be in season at my garden, great recipe to try! Not to mention the basil is growing like crazy now! Did I tell you how I want a bakery for just wedding cake? Order up a slice of whatever they have…like you are at a wedding any day whether it is your or no one you know! I can dream….

  15. I was shocked when this savory recipe popped up…I was EXPECTING CAKE!!!!!!!!!!!! RATS! Please post pictures of the cake as fast as you can!!!!!! I can hardly take the suspense!

  16. You make almost-raw vegetable and spag look gorgeous and exotic… GREAT pics. But’s its winter here I and I need some comfort food!!! I shall have to dive into the archives… any hints???


  17. This has been a favorite dish of ours for a few years now- of course, not this particular recipe- and we eat it about twice a month in the summer time. I have even gone so far as to use zucchini, yellow squash, colored pepper strips and eggplant along with pasta, and yes, all it really needs is a nice dash of oil and some good seasoning to make it plate-worthy.

  18. Susan

    Oh..this looks so good. I bet I have that same mandolin..and it works just fine. I like it better than the julienne peeler for things like this. It’s a little easier to handle on bigger jobs. Does the zuch hold up after reheating?

    I wonder if extra oil could be used to make croutons.

  19. I like spaghetti and I like zucchini, so why not combine. Sure beats the spaghetti sauce, for a change. My neighbors grow it and keep me supplied along with eggplant. I stay on their good side.

  20. kat f.

    i saw this yesterday and decided that at the very least, adding zucchini to spaghetti would be a good idea. i don’t have a mandolin, so i just grated it. worked well.

  21. If you can’t cook often, cooking something this delicious is the thing to do. The basil oil sounds particularly wonderful. If you have a little time to let things “stew” a bit, you could also try bruising and chopping some fresh basil and letting it and some chopped garlic steep in some olive oil at room temperature for several hours. Not as intense as your basil oil, I’m sure, but quite good. Also great for dipping bread in.

  22. Haha, I think you’re right – Michael Chiarello’s show is NEVER on, except during the middle of the night (which is a shame, since his show is great – love his recipes!). That dish looks HEAVENLY.

  23. I can’t wait to try this recipe! I’ve been grilling zucchini from the Farmers’ Market all week, but I have a feeling this pasta might turn into my new favorite zucchini recipe.

    I’ve just recently started blogging, but I’m a huge fan of the Smitten Kitchen!

  24. Hi Deb,
    You’re photographs are amazing. I love how simple and colorful you make food look. I’m a fan of your blog and have added you to our blog watch. :)
    I’ll be back :D

  25. On one hand, I’m a little skeptical of the “healthy” label on the original recipe — 3/4 cup of oil (not to mention the cheese) is just a lot of fat for 4 servings. But I do love the idea of zucchini “spaghetti”, and I’ll probably try a reduced-oil version of it for myself. Maybe I can even use basil from the plant that is flourishing on my fire escape!

  26. lacey in AK

    I made this last night- Before tasting, boyfriend looked down, then got up to fetch Costco pesto. He opened the jar, but decided to try without first. Took a bite, exclaimed “YUMM” and devoured the whole plate, with nary a smear of pesto or his ubiquitous hot sauce.

    SO good.

  27. nan

    I try never to visit your blog when I’m hungry…but today I ignored that advice and came anyway…and while I’m glad I did I’m now starving…and my cupboard is bare! Well, not really, but my level of enthusiasm for making anything more than a peanut butter sandwich is just not there…I think I’ll go take a nap now and dream about this pasta…and your wedding cake – which sounds heavenly. Good luck with that – I’m sending out my best baking vibes to you! Nan

  28. Erin

    @Nan: The recipe only calls for 1/4 of a cup of oil. Still too much for you, maybe, but definitely a lot less than 3/4 of a cup!

  29. letitia

    We made this last night, what a great light summer dinner! The only change was that was added julienned prosciutto (I have a meat lover in the house) and it was very deeelishous.

  30. D’Arcy

    Recipe sounds great! How long would the basil oil keep, and does it require refrigeration? I know fresh basil lasts only a few days…

  31. enjoyed your recipe and your site. maybe you could come over to dale’s garden and create recipes for all the overgrown vegetables. i’ll be back

  32. ciao!
    In Italy they would just throw the veggies in with the pasta, drain it and put back into the pot with the garlic , olive oil, chili pepper flakes.

    It is a classic, usually done with cauliflower or broccoli.
    In Liguria they do string beans and tiny cubes of potatoes topped them with pesto!

    Italians keep it simple!
    Guess that is why I never left when I came in 1984!
    Lovely foto’s!

  33. That is so gorgeous and so delicious sounding that I cannot, cannot, cannot wait for my zucchini to start growing in my garden. What a fantastic idea (and I’m there with ya on the mandoline, sister!) Fabulous recipe! Thank you!

  34. Becky

    I love this note: “Turn on the exhaust fan” So, at that point I yell across the apt and ask my husband to stick a fan under the smoke detector. This was delicious with lots left for more meals this week. Thanks, Deb!

  35. I’ve bookmarked a ton of recipes that you’ve posted but this is only the second I’ve made–and I’m so glad I did. I salted the zucchini while the pasta was cooking and just put the raw zucchini “noodles” in with the hot pasta after draining. I loved the texture of the zucchini with the wheat noodles and felt so virtuous while eating it. :) I get tired of zucchini pretty quickly in the summer, so this is definitely going in the repetoire!

  36. Hi Deb: Quick question. It looks from your photos (the second-to-last one in particular) like you used the optional basil oil. Do you think the recipe needs it? If so, how much did you use? I can’t imagine he means the entire 1 1/3 cups? That seems like a lot to make optional. Thanks!

  37. Just found your blog through Contented Me’s blog and, omg, I am in love. Especially since I just bought zucchini and fresh garlic at the farmer’s market during my lunch break. :-) I can’t wait to enjoy more of your recipes!

  38. oh, man. i just made this and it is delicious. i had given up on whole wheat pasta, though i do love whole wheat other stuff, because it just had a horrible texture. reading this recipe inspired me to give it another try. trader joe’s multigrain spaghetti with flax turns out to be great. i’m going to make more for dinner tonight! i love your site!

  39. Elyse

    This was, of course, fantastic. I don’t have a mandolin, but I have a really large grater, and I just grated the zucchini and it was just about the same size as Deb’s in the photos, although not as pretty. I was guesstimating a 1/3ish serving, which turned out fine except I think I overdid the red pepper – it was pretty spicy! Next time I need way more basil (my basil plant is a little sad right now) and less pepper. But there will definitely be a next time – super delicious!

  40. Catherine

    Mmm, I’d like to try it the creme fraiche way. I didn’t have basil, so I used tarragon, and it was pretty good, though I think basil would’ve been better.

    The other thing I don’t have is a mandoline, or the patience to julienne by hand when there’s any other option. So I used a vegetable peeler to make long thin strips instead, which worked great. It would’ve been even better if I’d thought in advance to buy wider pasta–fettucine or better yet, papardelle–so the sizes would match up.

    Finally, I think this could stand to have more zucchini in it–next time I’m going to try using half again as much and seeing what I think….

  41. C.

    Just made a variation on this, inspired by your post — no mandolin,so used a veg peeler and little knife work. Lightly sauteed some sliced garlic in a bit of butter and olive oil, added the juice and zest of one lemon, and some chiffonaded basil. Tossed pasta and Zukes with. Loverly.

  42. Jenna

    Deb, this was so delicious that I made it for dinner twice this week! Instead of making the basil oil (pressed for time, and I’d love to do it some other time), I added some minced basil when I tossed everything together. I found that I definitely needed the pasta water. So yummy!

  43. Jendorf

    My daughter actually asked me this week what zucchini was! So, off to the farmer’s market we went to find some, and then to your site to find a recipe.
    This was perfect–used things I already had in the pantry, and turned out beautifully. All 3 of my kids gobbled it up, as did my husband!
    This one’s going in the regular rotation for sure!

  44. Dawn K.

    We picked up a ton of fresh zucchini at the farmer’s market, and I came straight here to see how best use it all up. This is absolutely delicious! Also makes me feel like I’m somewhat capable in the kitchen. Tomorrow night, I’m looking forward to trying the zucchini and almond side dish!

  45. Jaimie

    I did a version of this tonight. I have been wanting to make this for a while, but I was really craving peanut noodles tonight, so I just mixed the two! I made peanut noodles and added the zucchini strands. I don’t have a mandoline and the idea of slicing those tiny strips made my hands and brain hurt, so I used a box grater and was just very careful to grate all the way down the zucchini. Although the strips were probably a bit thinner, they were still delicious and I still got a healthy serving of my veggies AND I got my peanut sauce. : ) Thanks for the idea!

  46. Mark

    Tried this last nite–quite tasty. I appreciated a healthier way to use the zucchini other than a bread or frying it which is always so tempting. I also appreciated a chance to practice my skills with a mandoline which worked like a charm.

  47. K

    I just tried this using some not-politically-correct, out-of-season zucchini I picked up the other day, and thin spinach spaghetti from Whole Foods. I loved the chance to dust off my mandoline and I was amazed at the depth of flavor you coaxed from such simple ingredients! Bravo.

  48. Genie K

    I was looking for a summer pasta recipe and checked your “summer section” to find this! My friends and I made it slightly different… Instead of spaghetti we made a fettuccine from scratch. This worked well because we didn’t have a mandoline so our zucchini strips were a bit chubbier than spaghetti.

    We also started to make the basil oil, but instead of straining it we kept it like a pesto, added a few tablespoons to the pasta, then seasoned the rest with salt and pepper and used it as a dip for bread to accompany the pasta. Delightful! Thanks for another recipe win!

  49. Kristi

    This was delicious! I have been making recipes off your site for over a year now. Everything I have made has been good but this was exceptional. I used rosemary oil instead of basil and it was amazing!

  50. Lynn Lovejoy

    I am making this tonight! :) This is the third meal I’ve made from smittenkitchen in the last 5 days (and I have eaten a mini-version of the lemony zucchini goat cheese pizza three days in a row (i’m a little obsessed!)) I can’t wait to make this! I have tons of zucchini left over from buying heaps of it to make these pizzas LOL…I can’t wait, although I don’t have a mandoline (i don’t even know what that is…shameful i know), so I will have to try to cut them thin enough! Also, I tried the serrated knife that you suggested for cutting the pizza and it worked so much better than my dinky pizza-cutter, thanks Deb!! Also, thank you for including these simpler recipes mixed in with your amazing creations that I hope to try one day :)

  51. Lee Anne

    Hi Deb,

    LOVE, love, LOVE your website…it’s quickly becoming my go-to for cooking (I’m craving xxx…has Deb made this?). I was wondering: what’s the best way to store the basil oil, and how long does it keep?

  52. Eliza

    I just made this and it’s simplicity at its best! YUM! With just picked baby zukes and basil… easy and delish. Thanks for sharing!

  53. Elizabeth

    I made this tonight with zephyrs from the union square farmer’s market and the basil olive oil— incredible! ! I made sure to de-healthy it with copious amounts of parmegiano reggiano. I julienned the zucc by hand with a peeler and a knife and it wasn’t that hard. Love your site. Thanks!

  54. Emiles

    Made this last night and it was amazing! I increased everything so I could use the entire box of pasta, which is great or I’d never use it up. I also added some pine nuts – DELISH! And I didn’t feel the zucchini needed steamed at all – I used a julienne peeler from Pampered Chef and it was just fine! Thanks for the deliciousness!

  55. Jena

    I made this for dinner adding some cherry tomatoes for my little one it was NOM NOMx100!! Thanks again for a great recipe Deb!!

  56. Sara

    I know this is an old post, but I will love adding these spices to my zucchini pasta made with my silly spirooli maker– I just toss the zucchini noodles in oil for a second in a hot pan, and then top with .. well with these goodies.. hot pepper flakes.. mm.

  57. Cathy

    This was delicious! Made it on a hot DC summer night. Added shallots, more garlic, and heirloom bell peppers which lovely. Thank you — your recipes never disappoint!

  58. Renata

    I was going to make the brocolli cream pesto, but couldn’t find brocolli in the market so I decided to go with this one, cause you know, you can’t go wrong with zucchini.I improvised a bit, cause I didn’t have the red pepper flakes nor the basil (I used oregano instead), but My god, this is delicious! even without those marvelous ingredients. ASAP I’m buying the red pepper flakes and the basil so I can taste the original in all of it’s glory. Thanks a lot for that and other amazing recipes, I absolutely love the blog!

  59. Laura

    Oh my goodness – this is an adult version of (what I call) squash spaghetti! My mom would make this when we were kids but it was just grated zucchini and carrots sauteed in olive oil with some s&p over spaghetti. It’s fantastically easy and fast. I’ll have to give the adult version a go some time.

  60. Rita

    This is my favorite summer dish. Tonight I tried it with mizithra cheese instead of parmesan and the dish was even better, no melting cheese to get in the way but still having a great cheesy taste. (I’m not suggesting melting cheese is ever really a bad thing but with this dish it always felt heavy and cumbersome.) I strongly suggest this cheese :)

  61. I have been using zucchini in my pasta recipes lately and I just love it. The kids don’t mind the little extra green either so it is definitely a winner! I have to get a mandoline though because I couldn’t cut that zucchini so thin. The recipe is yummy!

  62. coco

    yummy I used Udon noodle this time…and very nice ” Vegan parmesan cheese ” ( ( , is the brand that Safeway carries ) it was delicious ! next time I’l use pasta .

  63. I find that cooking with fresh herbs on the heat for too high or too long tends to make them less full of their original flavor and more bitter if anything. I agree with you 100%! And I’m definitely going to try incorporating this dish into my monthly meal plans, thank you!