Zucchini Ribbons in Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce

There is such satisfaction in bringing together a meal, especially on a dreary day. Where most people crave blankets and movie screens on cloudy weekends, I am the type to crave the kitchen. The kitchen is a place of birth and discovery–a space for testing ideas and seeing what works, for creating combinations that nourish and delight–and when the dreary day you’re facing stems from more than the weather, discovering new things is like medicine for the soul.

Zucchini Ribbons in a Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce

Nashville brought just this sort of blessing our way recently, a deluge of cloudy, crummy weather on an afternoon in which Tim and I had been sitting on the sofa, discussing disappointments that made my eyes pour like storm clouds. I’ve always been an easy crier, so the fact that I’d been crying was nothing incredible. I cry in movies and from blog posts; I cry because someone else does. I cry when I’m overwhelmed with happiness; I cry when I don’t know what else to do. Sometimes, I even cry because I taste something so good, tears are what come out. This particular afternoon, however, was a different sort of sadness, a deeper one. It’s the sort of sadness I’m not ready to write about here.

Zucchini Ribbons in a Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce

Tim needed to work a few more hours, so he set up camp at the table. I stood and went to the kitchen, dim with drizzly light. From the fridge, I pulled out two long, green zucchini. On a cutting board, I chopped off their ends and peeled off their skins. Steady, repetitive strokes on the mandolin turned two gourds into a full colander of thinly sliced, almost translucent ribbons, salted and set in the sink to drain.

In a food processor, I watched olive oil, lemon juice, toasted almonds, garlic, parsley and salt become one of the thickest, creamiest pestos I’ve ever had. I ate full spoonfuls of it, straight out of the Vitamix, standing at the counter. Then I combined it with the zucchini, rinsed and dried and thrown in a bowl.

Zucchini Ribbons in Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce

By the time I brought the plates to the table, each of them piled high with strands of zucchini as thick as pappardelle, I was so full of wonder at what I held, I was smiling again.

“This was so much fun!” I said to Tim, almost breathless as I tossed parsley on our plates, then, red pepper flakes.

Days like these, I’m so glad I have the kitchen to return to, both a balm of comfort and a space to create. I’m thankful for the faithful pleasure of watching something that was not, become, right before my eyes. It is, at its very essence, a sort of hope.

Zucchini Ribbons in a Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce
Serves two as a meal; three to four as a side

This particular creation developed from a random thought about zucchini ribbons, coupled with a desire to use up other ingredients we had on hand. I had full intention of adding some leftover cheddar to the pesto when I started, but once I tasted how good it was on its own (slivered almonds have no skin, ridding them of bitterness, and the extra step of toasting ups the depth of flavor, pushing the nuts towards sweet), I didn’t want to change a thing. We’re calling the sauce a pesto alfredo sauce because the resulting mixture was such a creamy, faux-cheesy combination, alfredo was the thing that came to mind.

Ingredients:
2 large zucchini (mine totaled just over a pound in weight)

for the vegan pesto alfredo sauce:
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup slivered almonds
Big handful of parsley (about half an ounce) chopped
Juice of two small lemons, about 1/8 cup
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for soaking zucchini

for garnish:
chopped parlsey and crushed red pepper flakes, as desired

Directions:
Begin by chopping off the ends of your zucchini and peeling off the skins.

To create the zucchini ribbons, pull out your mandoline (or, you may use a peeler or even, very carefully, a knife, to create the same idea; the size of your ribbons will just be different). Place one zucchini at a time on the cutting board and slice off rustic ribbons that run the length of the vegetable, turning the zucchini and working around it as you go. When you get to the center, you may have a little nubbin left over; you may eat it, add it to the ribbons, or use in something else.

Place the zucchini ribbons in a colander set over the sink. Once all the ribbons are cut, salt the top of the pile and let it sit, draining slowly, while you continue working.

Set a sauté pan on the stove and add 1/2 cup of slivered almonds. Warm over medium-low heat until toasted.

In a food processor, combine 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, chopped parsley, lemon juice, grated garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Blend until well mixed and similar to the texture of a pesto. Add up to another 1/4 cup olive oil; blend. Taste, and adjust for salt if desired.

Run the colander of zucchini ribbons under cool water to rinse; dab dry with paper towels.

Place zucchini ribbons in large bowl and add pesto alfredo sauce. Toss thoroughly to cover ribbons.

To serve, garnish zucchini with chopped parsley and crushed red pepper flakes, as desired.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 34 Comments

  1. Kathryn

    Such a lovely bright and fresh meal, real proof of the magic that can come from nothing in the kitchen.

    I’m sending you both lots of love and good thoughts for the disappointments that you’re facing. I know that, together, you are more than strong enough to weather whatever life throws at you xo

  2. Madison

    I will certainly be making this recipe asap! My mom is in town this upcoming weekend and it’s her birthday. I feel like this would be a great way to celebrate and use up all the zucchini we have around our place!

  3. Lindsey @ Pas de Deux

    Shanna, reading your description of your time in the kitchen, I was right there with you, feeling the clear-headed serenity that comes when I step into the kitchen to chop vegetables, to prepare a meal. As you said, “a balm of comfort and a space to create.” I hope that your time in the kitchen guides you through this difficult period. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Joanna

    I love the way you notice every little gift about being in the kitchen and cooking, from the meditative quality of slicing zucchini ribbons, to the magic of whirring nuts and herbs and juice into something so yummy.

    Also, I’m putting this on our meal plan for next week. I can’t wait!

  5. felicia | Dish by Dish

    You know, disappointments and sadness sometimes overwhelm us, but I know that God always has a better plan. Just thought of my favorite verse, and while I have no idea what made you feel so sad, this verse always comforts me and make me grounded again. “For I know the thoughts I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

    BIG BIG hug my dear friend.

  6. Christine

    Though I don’t know you personally, I cried as I read this post. I prefer not to say that I’m an “easy crier” because that term seems to somehow devalue the deep emotion that I feel as I engage with my worries and my world. Instead, I say “engaged emoter.” You and me both are engaged emoters.

    There are few sensations better than that of eating a nutritious, sustaining meal after a draining session of mournful communication. To me, it feels almost as if each swallow is physically re-filling my cup so that I may share it again. Thanks for the sharing, the recipe, and the inspiration.

  7. Harriet

    Zucchini ribbons are great and so versatile I’ve found. I work in a charcuterie that makes the most beautiful sausages and last summer when I bought more zucchini than I knew what to do with, I would cook the sausages in a pan and then in the last few moments toss zucchini ribbons through the juices – absolutely delicious! And the right sort of comfort food for me.. Stay strong

  8. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom

    Shanna,
    I’m pretty emotional too. . but hey, we need people like us in the world. . also, seems you are very compassionate towards others so that’s pretty wonderful. I’m with you on feeling that great satisfaction when you bring a great meal together! And this is wonderful! The first time I made zucchini ribbons (with olive oil, a little lemon juice, walnuts and fresh ricotta and some salt and pepper), I fell in love. So beautiful! Love this!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Alice, Thanks for this kind comment. It hardly ever happens, but I heard from someone less understanding this morning, and hearing your words are comforting. Also, I know just what you mean about the zucchini ribbons! So marvelous!

  9. Jennifer T

    This looks delicious! Thank you for showing another way to enjoy a vegetable raw, something I’m always wishing for. We need to eat like this more often, but it’s hard to know what to do with raw vegetables sometimes.

    So sorry to hear you are going through a difficult time. I am reminded of back in maybe 7th grade, when Mr. Q would give us the opportunity to share something we had read that morning. Most of us would clam up, but you would faithfully volunteer to tell what you had read from Psalms. It was an encouragement to me — someone is actually doing this and meditating on it all day — and I know that God within you can be an encouragement to you now. Praying for you and Tim! If you need a distant friend, you have my e-mail address. ;)

  10. jessiev

    i WILL make this, tomorrow. i’m a crier, too. recently i was watching that video of the HS principal and his students doing a flash mob (from upworthy) and i was just sobbing in joy. life is good. thank you for these honest, life-giving reflections.

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  12. Kasey

    Shanna, I somehow missed this post, but I just wanted to chime in and say that I hope this sadness has passed, and that today’s news sets the stage for 2014, and beyond. Much love to you.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh, thank you, kasey! It has and it hasn’t, in the way that sadness is always sneaking up us in this life, but what has passed is feeling like there isn’t good in the sadness, too. Thankful for that and for your kind words!

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