There is such satisfaction to be found in bringing together a meal like these zucchini “noodles” in a creamy vegan pesto alfredo, especially on a dreary day.
While many people seek out warm blankets and movie screens on cloudy weekends, I am the type to crave time spent in the kitchen.
The kitchen is a place of birth and discovery, after all, a space for testing new ideas and seeing what works, for creating novel and enticing combinations that nourish and delight. And when the dreary day you’re facing stems from more than just the weather, discovering new things in the kitchen is like medicine for the soul.
Nashville brought just this sort of blessing our way recently, with 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 while watching movies or reading blog posts, because someone else does, if I’m overwhelmed with happiness, or sometimes when I just don’t know what else to do.
Sometimes, I even cry because I taste something so good, tears come out. This particular afternoon, however, was filled with a different sort of feeling, a deep sadness.
Tim needed to work for 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 several long, green zucchini.
In a food processor, I watched olive oil, lemon juice, soaked cashews, sauteed onions, garlic, parsley, and basil become one of the thickest, creamiest pestos I’ve ever had.
I ate full spoonfuls of it, straight out of the food processor, standing at the counter.
Then I combined it with the zucchini, which I’d gently sauteed in olive oil.
By the time I brought the plates to the table, each of them piled high with strands of zoodles as thick as pappardelle, I was so full of wonder at what I held, I found that I was smiling again.
“This was so much fun!” I said to Tim, almost breathless as I tossed chopped parsley and basil on our plates, then a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.
On days like these, I’m so glad I always have the kitchen to return to, as both a comforting balm and a space to create. I’m thankful for the pleasure of watching something that did not exist come into being, right before my eyes. This is something I can count on, and it brings me a sense of hope.
This particular creation was originally developed starting with a random thought about zucchini noodles (zoodles! courgetti!) and how to take simple summer squash or zucchini on a not so wonderful day and make it into something fantastic, coupled with a desire to use up some other ingredients we had on hand.
The pesto is also fantastic with spaghetti squash, if you need to keep a recipe like this rolling all year long. But if you love using zucchini noodles, try it in another vegan sauce for a different meatless dinner idea, like our cashew cheezy sauce!
Depending on what’s in your fridge and how you’re feeling, you can make this dish your own with your favorite veggies, nuts, herbs, and spices. I’ve even paired the ribbons with my parsnip and beet puree recipe!
Your favorite combos, and a bit of time spent in the kitchen, can help to make a dreary day become one that at least feels as if it’s filled with sunshine.Print
Liven up pasta night with this vegan twist on a classic, where tender zucchini ribbons are tossed with creamy cheese-free pesto alfredo.
- 1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onion (about 1 small onion)
- 3 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
- 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 3 pounds zucchini (about 6 large), ends trimmed
- Crushed red pepper flakes, for garnish
- Soak the cashews in hot water for 15 minutes and then discard the liquid.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetable broth and onions. Simmer until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated and the onions have softened, about 6-8 minutes.
- Transfer the onions to a food processor and allow them to cool slightly. Reserve the pan.
- Add the soaked cashews, garlic, lemon juice, basil, parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the food processor. Puree until the texture is smooth and similar to pesto, and then slowly stream in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil while the food processor is running. Season to taste with additional salt as needed.
- Using a vegetable peeler or your mandoline, slice the zucchini lengthwise into ribbons, turning as you peel, until you get to the seeds at the core. Discard the cores.
- In the same large skillet where you cooked the onions, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place over medium-high heat and swirl to coat the pan. Cooking in two batches so you don’t crowd the pan, toss and saute the zucchini ribbons with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until softened, about 2-3 minutes per batch.
- Transfer the warm zucchini to a large mixing bowl and then pour in the pesto alfredo, tossing to coat.
- Divide among plates and garnish with additional basil, parsley, and crushed red pepper flakes.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Vegan
Keywords: vegan, zucchini, pesto, zoodles
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Soak the Cashews and Prep the Pesto Ingredients
Soak the cashews in hot water for 15 minutes and then discard the liquid.
If you don’t have a high-powered blender or food processor and will be using a regular blender to make the pesto, soak the cashews overnight in water instead, to ensure that the final result is creamy, not gritty.
If you have the choice between a regular blender or food processor, the food processor will work best.
Chop the onions and garlic, and juice the lemon. Measure the basil and roughly chop the parsley.
The parsley doesn’t need to be chopped before being blended, but since it gets used as a garnish, I prefer to chop it first so it’s already prepped. But you could leave it whole here and wait until just before serving to chop the remaining parsley for the garnish if you prefer. Do whatever works for you!
Step 2 – Cook the Onions and Make the Pesto
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetable broth and onions, and simmer until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated and the onions are softened, which will take about 6-8 minutes.
You could also do this with water, but the broth provides additional flavor.
Transfer the onions to a food processor or high-speed blender and allow them to cool slightly.
Add the soaked cashews, garlic, lemon juice, basil, parsley, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Puree until the texture is smooth and similar to pesto. Scrape down the sides.
With the food processor or blender running, slowly stream in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Season to taste with additional salt if needed, and set aside.
You can prep the pesto several days in advance. Refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
Step 3 – Peel the Zucchini into Ribbons and Saute
Using a vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini into lengthwise ribbons, turning as you peel until you get to the seeds at the core. Repeat with each, and discard the cores and the ends.
In the same large skillet where you cooked the onions, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place over medium-high heat, and swirl to coat the pan.
Cooking in two batches so you don’t crowd the pan, toss and saute the zucchini ribbons with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until softened, about 2-3 minutes per batch.
Step 4 – Toss the Zucchini Ribbons with the Pesto and Serve
Gently tear the remaining basil leaves for garnish.
Transfer the warm zucchini to a large mixing bowl and then pour in the pesto alfredo, tossing to coat.
Divide among plates and garnish with the torn basil, chopped parsley, and crushed red pepper flakes.
You can also add an additional drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil for garnish to give the dish a glossy look if you like.
Don’t Pass the Parm, Please
Your guests will never even know you skipped the cheese with this pesto alfredo that’s chock-full of herby goodness, garlic, and lemon.
Thanks to our secret weapons – softened cashews for the sauce, and zucchini in place of pasta – this lightened-up meal will leave everyone feeling satisfied, without the need for post-dinner sweatpants that you might put on for a more traditional pasta and alfredo recipe.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to make a double batch of the dairy-free pesto and give a nod to noods (preferably something tubular, like penne) when I want something super carby to soak up this delicious sauce. But when I’m craving a vibrant vegan treat, these zucchini ribbons are truly the ticket.
Yearning for more creative yums to fit your vegan lifestyle? These vegan-friendly recipes will complement any of your meals that are in need of a little motivation:
The basil and parsley in this pesto make quite a pair, but feel free to experiment with all the leafy possibilities. Share your favorite herb combos in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on July 9, 2013. Last updated on May 13, 2021. With additional writing and editing by Fanny Slater and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.