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Penne Rigate with Courgette Pesto

13 October 2011


In the midst of planning for an upcoming dinner party – for which two of my guests are vegetarians – I felt a momentary surge of panic at the the troubling realization that I don’t know any good recipes for vegetarian main dishes. Better to realize this now, I suppose, than when everyone is seated round the table while I slice up a juicy prime rib. But still – I was running out of time to find (and test) some vegetarian options that would appeal to both the herbivores and enthusiastic carnivores alike.

Bless you, pasta, you’ve come to my rescue once again.

As every pasta-lover knows, it’s all about the sauce. No one is a fan of Spaghetti Bolognese or Fettuccine Alfredo because of a pile of naked noodles. No, it’s a rich, flavourful sauce that brings pasta-lovers back to il tavolo again and again. As vegetarian sauces go, nothing quite beats the freshness and flavour of a homemade pesto.

I’ve made a lot of pesti since the arrival of my brilliant mini food-processor last fall (seriously, get one – you will never cook the same way again), and the pesto featured in this recipe is one of my best (originally featured in Cooking Light: Super Fresh & Easy Meals). The addition of lightly sauteed courgettes was just the thing to bring this recipe into the territory of awesome, and it’s definitely one that will please the pickiest vegetable eaters in your life. Even better, it takes only 20 minutes to prepare and re-heats quite well as leftovers.

Note: I omitted the onions in the recipe below because – despite my Grandma’s best efforts – I just don’ I thought it was absolutely delicious without them, but if you’re into onions, by all means toss one in.

Buon appetito!



Serves: 4

4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 1/2 cups (1/4-inch thick) sliced fresh courgettes (about 3/4 pound)

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided

2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

4 fresh garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup chopped fresh Vidallia or other sweet onion (about 1 small onion)

6 quarts water

1 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided

8 ounces uncooked penne rigate pasta

1/4 cup single or double cream

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper


1.  Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add courgettes to pan; saute 5 minutes or until tender and golden. Remove from pan; cool.

2.  Place 1/4 cup cooked courgettes, basil, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped. (Keep mixture in food processor.)

3.  Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; saute for 10 minutes or until golden. Return remaining cooked courgettes to pan and remove from heat.

4.  Combine 6 quarts water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large Dutch oven or stove pot. Bring to a boil, add pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain in a sieve over a bowl, reserving 1/3 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta to vegetables.

5.  With processor running, add reserved cooking liquid to basil mixture and process until smooth. Add basil mixture and cream to pasta, stirring gently to incorporate. Season with remaining salt and black pepper. Top with remaining shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, to serve.


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