Pasta and Summer Squash with Tomatoes, Basil, and Pine Nuts

July 20, 2009 at 12:33 pm (A (4 stars, love, favorite), Alma's faves, Cook's Illustrated, Italian, Pasta, Starches, Summer recipes, To test on plan, Yearly menu plan) ()

I made this recipe tonight and liked it so much I decided to repost it.  It was originally posted on August 17, 2006.

I’ve often tried to make this sort of light/summery pasta dish without a lot of success. Unless I use a large amount of olive oil or parmesan in the past the dish has always seemed rather bland. But this recipe is light and delicious! This is based on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, but I cut down on oil and pasta, and increased the amounts of squash and seasonings. I give options for a number of ingredients depending on how rich, spicy, starchy etc. you want your dinner to be.

Serves 2–3 as a main dish. For 3 use the larger amount of pasta.

  • 1.25 pounds zucchini and/or summer squash (about 2 medium) halved lengthwise and then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt (for salting the squash)
  • 5 ounces whole wheat farfalle or penne (or up to 7 ounces for a more starchy, less vegetable-y dish)
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (you can use 1.5 or 2 Tbs. for a richer dish)
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (1/4 tsp. if you don’t like spicy food)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, each tomato halved (or 2.5 cups diced tomatoes, preferably a mix of red and yellow or orange)
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed chopped fresh basil (or up to 2/3 cup if you love basil and want more of a salad feel to the dish)
  • 1tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup pine nuts, toasted (2 Tbs.)
  • 4 Tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (about 1 ounce, or more for a richer dish)
  • may need salt to taste (depends on how well you removed the salt from the zucchini)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

High-level game plan (precise instructions are below)

  1. At least 45 minutes to an hour before you want to eat:  Prepare the zucchini and set it aside to drain for 30 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  3. Mince the garlic and measure the red pepper flakes and set aside in a small bowl.
  4. Prepare all the remaining seasonings and the raw vegetables, and add to a large serving bowl.
  5. Add the pasta to the boiling water.  While the pasta is cooking, saute the zucchini.
  6. Drain the pasta.  Add the zucchini and pasta to the serving bowl.  Sprinkle on parmesan.   Stir to combine and serve immediately.


  1. Zucchini:  Wash and slice the squash. Toss the squash with 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a medium bowl; transfer to large colander, set colander over bowl, and let stand 30 minutes.  After the 30 minutes are up, spread the squash evenly over double layer of paper or dish towels; pat dry with additional towels and wipe off residual salt.  (You can skip the drying step if you want, but the zucchini won’t caramelize quite as well.) Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until just before the oil starts to smoke; swirl to coat pan. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes. In the last minute add the garlic and red pepper flakes (and another 1/2 Tbs. olive oil if you like).  Add the cooked zucchini to the serving bowl and toss to combine.
  2. Pasta:  Bring 2 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in a stockpot. When the water comes to a boil, add 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt) and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain and add to the serving bowl.
  3. Raw vegetables and seasoning:  Wash the basil and let it dry. Halve or quarter the tomatoes and add to the bowl.  Add the balsamic vinegar. Toast the pine nuts and add to the bowl.  Chop the basil and add to the serving bowl. Sprinkle on the parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Note, if you’re going to double the recipe you really need to cook the squash in two batches, since if you crowd the pan the squash will not brown. Also, if you do not have a 12-inch skillet you might also want to cook the squash in more than one batch.  If you double the recipe you’ll need a very large bowl to mix everything in, or you can do use the pot you cooked the pasta in.

Rating: B+
Derek: B+

This dish is a little low on protein, so I would make sure to eat a higher protein meal for lunch. Or serve the dish with a bowl of Italian flavored chickpea or lentil soup. But other than being low on protein the stats are surprisingly good. The dish has lots of vitamins, and a surprising amount of iron!

Note:  I’ve changed the recipe quite a bit from the original.  I use 25% more squash (1.25 pounds instead of 1), less pasta (5 oz instead of 8 oz), less oil (1–1.5 Tbs. instead of 2.5 Tbs.), double the garlic and red pepper flakes, and a bit more basil.

Cook’s Illustrated has two other related recipes which I’d like to try at some point:

Update August 2018: We got a ton of summer squashes from our CSA this summer, as well as tomatoes and basil. I decided to make this dish, and Alma ate it very happily (at 3 years old). Since then I’ve made it twice more this summer. She eats it very happily as long as I leave the basil and chili flakes on the side. Derek says it’s not so exciting, but it’s always tasty. A solid recipe. I think I made it once with slivered almonds instead of pine nuts, and it was also good.


  1. Superfoods said,

    That truly sounds fantastic!! We are into raw food, so we want to throw out there you could spiralize a zucchini to make raw pasta noodles! Sounds great, thanks for sharing!

  2. absence makes the garden grow faster? « ~~okieOLIO~~ said,

    […] and basil and sage and parsley, oh my! it’s got me thinking about dinner… i see a spicy veggie pignolia pasta…or perhaps a rich moroccan-style risotto. and there’s always pesto or tabbouleh or […]

  3. Jenn said,

    Just wanted to let you know, I just tried a riff on this–I roasted my cherry tomatoes, and used pesto since that was the only basil I had on hand. It was great! Surprisingly spicy, but I enjoyed it.

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