Zucchini Noodles in Rustic Tomato Sauce

By Ann Fulton

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This easy, one-pan meal is plant-based but will satisfy meat eaters too. Use prepared zucchini noodles or spiralize them yourself, and feel free to enjoy the simple sauce with regular pasta as well.  


Kitchen cabinets are like closets. One never seems to have enough of them.

Since space is at a premium, I rarely purchase new kitchen gadgets. Beyond the obvious storage issue, I attempt to cook with what my readers likely have in their kitchens. I even try to limit the use of a blender or food processor in the recipes I share week to week. Not everyone owns these small appliances, and others consider it a hassle to retrieve them from the far reaches of a high shelf.

For all who search for fresh new ways to use the seasonal surplus of zucchini, however, one new gadget is worthy of consideration. For those who aren’t familiar, a spiralizer is a relatively inexpensive tool that spins fresh veggies into faux-noodles. (Paderno is one of the most highly rated brands and retails for about $30.00. Look for it in kitchen stores, online, and from retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart.)

Because zucchini is the vegetable most commonly whirled through this gadget, the name “zoodle” has become synonymous with what is essentially a low-carb option to spaghetti, linguini, and more.

That said, twisting vegetables into long spiraled strands isn’t just for the carb-averse. Home cooks and restaurant chefs are spiralizing the likes of beets, broccoli stems, apples and carrots for added texture, health appeal and flavor—or simply for fun visual appeal–in both hot and cold meals. A quick Google search revealed an extensive list of cookbooks dedicated solely to spiralized recipes.

The following recipe is the reason I frequently use this handy gadget throughout the summer months. My meat-loving husband and teenage boys consistently rave about this meatless meal, and it doesn’t occur to them that anything is missing.

Umami-rich tomatoes, capers, and a few other choice ingredients deliver satisfying flavor, while the briefly cooked zucchini noodles provide texture surprisingly similar to pasta. Just be sure to follow the easy steps to expel the excess moisture from the zucchini and thereby avoid a watered-down sauce.

Spiralizing Tips:

  1. For best noodles (i.e., long, continuous strands instead of half moons), choose medium to large vegetables that are uniform in diameter.
  2. Slice vegetable ends so they are flat and even before placing in the spiralizer.
  3. To avoid making half moon-shaped noodles instead of the desired long noodles, be sure to center the food to be spiralized on the cylindrical blade. If the vegetable moves off center, reposition it and proceed. You may wish to cut very long noodles for easier eating.
  4. After cutting, you’ll end up with funny looking cores. Feel free to chop or slice them and add to your dish. Alternatively, dip them in hummus or your favorite veggie dip or reserve for soup, salad, or a casserole.
  5. To avoid a watered-down sauce, sprinkle salt over moisture-rich vegetables after spiralizing them and allow them to drain in a colander for 15 minutes or up to an hour. Then squeeze in a clean tea towel or sturdy, lint-free paper towels to further eliminate excess water.
  6. Spiralized noodles don’t always need to be cooked; feel free to try them raw or lightly warmed. When cooked, the noodles tend to maintain better taste and texture when cooked briefly.
An easy, healthy, plant-based meal the whole family will love!

Economical, healthy yet filling, and the perfect way to deal with the seasonal explosion of zucchini and tomatoes…this may be “pretend pasta,” but it’s always a hit with my husband and sons.

Zucchini Noodles in Rustic Tomato Sauce
Yield: 2 main dish or 4 side servings

As written, this one-pan recipe makes a perfect dinner for two or side dish for four. The recipe can easily be doubled, however. In that case, just be sure to use a skillet with a 12- or 14-inch diameter. Serve with a side of crusty bread to soak up the sauce, or top with grilled chicken or shrimp for added protein.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
  • 2 cups (1 pint) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 medium-large zucchini plus 1/2 teaspoon salt for sweating
  • Optional toppings: about 2 ounces or 1/4 cup crumbled feta and 2 tablespoons torn, fresh basil leaves (you can eyeball this to taste)
  1. First, spiralize the zucchini. (I like to use the thicker of the two blades so the “zoodles” have more bite and don’t become mushy.) Then place the zucchini noodles in a colander, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, toss well, and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes or up to an hour or so. When ready to add to the sauce, use a clean tea towel or two sturdy, lint-free paper towels and squeeze the excess moisture out of the zucchini. Zucchini has a very high water content and this will create a better texture noodle and prevent the sauce from becoming watered down. At this point, you may wish to snip the long strands into shorter pieces for easier eating later.
  2. For the sauce: In a large skillet (a 10-inch diameter works well), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute or until fragrant but not turning brown. Add the anchovies, mashing them with the back of a spoon. (They will dissolve into a paste and flavor the sauce with no obvious pieces.)
  3. Add the tomatoes, capers, salt, pepper, and sugar. As the tomatoes cook and soften, mash them with a fork to help form a chunky, rustic sauce. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes break down.
  4. Add the squeezed zucchini, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until hot. Sprinkle with feta and torn basil, if using. Enjoy as is or with a piece of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
  • If you really don’t like anchovies–or capers, for that matter–you may omit them. They do provide wonderful flavor though—without a fishy taste–and even those who don’t care for anchovies never seem to know they’re there! Omitting the anchovies would make this an excellent vegetarian option. For a vegan option, omit the feta as well. In this case, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast would provide a hint of cheesy flavor.
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  1. Autumn

    Made this last night. I didn’t salt the zucchini beforehand and also left out the extra added salt. (The capers and feta added more than enough salt/sodium for us). Subbed boneless, skinless sardines in place of the anchovies, which added flavor and protein. We really liked this dish and will make it often.

    1. Ann Post author

      My husband would love your anchovy addition, Autumn! Salting the zucchini is primarily to get rid of the excess moisture, which can water down the sauce. This may be less noticeable with smaller zucchini. Thanks for mentioning your tweaks, and I’m delighted it’s a keeper!

  2. E.S. Post author

    Loved this recipe! I made it last eve, added mushrooms, a bit of white wine and used yellow squash. It was delicious!I bought a spiralizer and am having such fun with it. However, I need recipes so appreciate your help. Also, the anchovies really do add a great flavor. I never used them before and I loved the flavor. Thanks for your column. I love it!

  3. Marcy

    We made this last night for 14 people and it was huge hit!! The only downside is that there weren’t any leftovers ; ))
    We will definitely be making this again.

    1. Ann Post author

      I’m thrilled this was a success with everyone, Marcy…and that’s a lot of zucchini noodles! Thanks for the great feedback!