Better Than Pasta Subtitutes: Summer Squash Noodle Recipe and Video

by | Aug 27, 2012
Squash Pasta

Squash Pasta

Recently a reader asked:

“Any tips on pasta substitutes? (I did read your post about how whole grain/whole wheat pasta isn’t really a whole lot better than regular pasta).”

Pasta and noodles can be tricky if you’re trying to lose weight and get healthy. Though some people consider Italian pasta (made from semolina flour) to be a low glycemic index food, in my experience frequent pasta consumption will start the scale moving slowly upward.

I love pasta, but eat it sparingly.

Luckily I have found a noodle substitute that I absolutely adore, and it’s even faster than boiling water.

Although I was shocked at how delicious this turned out, I was even more amazed at how easy it was to prepare. All you need is some summer squash, a vegetable peeler and a bowl (optional). Cook the noodles by quickly sautéing them with a little olive oil and Kosher salt.

You can use any sauce you like. I modified the simple tomato sauce recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

Summer Squash Pasta & Simple Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2-4 summer squash such as zucchini
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 medium fresh tomato
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ~10 leaves fresh basil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt

First run your garlic through a garlic press and place into a small bowl or cup. Add 1 tbsp warm water to the garlic, stir and set aside.

Next drain your tomatoes and reserve the liquid. Dice your fresh tomato into half inch cubes.

Chop your basil. Leaves such as mint and basil are easiest to cut if you chiffonade them by stacking the leaves on top of each other and rolling them lengthwise like a cigarette. From there they are easy to cut into thin strips.

In a pan heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant but not brown, about one minute. Add the canned tomatoes and simmer until sauce starts to thicken, about 8 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, peel squash as shown in the video. Saute the squash ribbons in olive oil on medium heat. Sprinkle with salt and sauté for no more than 2 minutes. Do not allow them to brown or soften. Noodles should be brightly colored and al dente. Remove from pan and set aside.

When sauce starts to thicken, add fresh tomatoes and basil. Add some reserved tomato liquid if it becomes too thick to work with. Cook sauce another 3 minutes or so and salt to taste.

Toss your sauce with squash noodles and serve immediately.

How else do you like to eat squash pasta?

This post and video are pretty old, but this is still one of my all-time favorite recipes. Originally published July 29, 2009.

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86 Responses to “Better Than Pasta Subtitutes: Summer Squash Noodle Recipe and Video”

  1. Joan Nova says:

    I’ve done a similar take and made zucchini spaghetti but yours looks absolute delicious. I love all the healthy information you continue to provide for your readers. I’ve got so many of your posts clicked off as “unread” so that I don’t lose them.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Joan, I highly recommend using an online bookmarking service like StumbleUpon or Delicious to keep track of your favorite articles. That’s how I keep up with everything I read and post in Friday’s For The Love of Food. (We can even be in the same network and share articles if you want!)

      These sites create an online library of your favorite websites and articles so you can always access them and don’t forget where they are. You can also sort using tags and install convenient toolbars that allow you to instantly bookmark your favorite sites to your collection with a single click. Stumbles also help bring a ton of traffic into the pages you bookmark!

  2. Allie says:

    This looks really good! I’m definitely trying it sometime soon.

  3. Hanlie says:

    I will definitely try that! Thanks!

  4. If you like noodles like this, definitely look for a spiralizer. This will shape your squash into spaghetti! [link removed]

  5. This is on my list of things to try now, thank you for sharing!

  6. Matt Shook says:

    This looks like an awesome, dare I say it, VEGAN recipe! It just so happens that I received two large summer squash (one yellow, one green) from a friend’s organic backyard garden last Monday. I think I’ll try this tomorrow…thanks for sharing!

  7. Amy says:

    Love it! We had squash just this week served like this, with basil+ Italian parsley pesto. Asparagus is also delicious this way if you have the patience. I tried it last month for a cold asparagus “pasta” (scroll down a bit: http://www.feasiblyfitmom.com/2009/06/fast-food-the-feasibly-fit-way.html).

  8. Dave says:

    I like to use a Mandoline to shred the summer squash into more of a spaghetti size (It holds more sauce I think lol) Thanks for this great reminder of the versatility we have to enjoy the summer bounty! I like the ease of the peeler because EVERYONE has a vegetable peeler in their utensil collection. Great Idea!

  9. JaneDoughnut says:

    This isn’t just a great idea for low-carb and vegan dishes – it’s also great as a raw food dish. Myself and a friend tried this recently, with a raw marinara, and it was wonderful! Now I just need to try it with spaghetti squash!

  10. Hannah says:

    Exceeded my expectations; VERY good. I saw this recipe, had no definite dinner plans, and whipped this right up. Thank you so much for a great idea! I’ll definitely be making this again and again.

  11. Lauren B says:

    Love the low carb spin on pasta! I’ve done it with bean sprouts and enoki mushrooms, too. Thanks for sharing your technique! What a great healthy blog. :)

  12. ps says:

    I usually make my zucchini with pesto sauce, but since I cut it in rounds, I usually have to cook it until part of it gets gushy. I just made this with yellow squash slicing it thin like you showed in the video, and the texture was better. The only thing not great is that the squash I bought had a large seed core. I felt really bad throwing it out (anyone have any ideas of what to do with it? — long shot, I know).

    • Darya Pino says:

      I usually just eat mine raw either plain or with some kind of dip, like hummus. I suppose you could cut it up and add it to salad as well. I agree, it’s a shame to waste.

  13. Bess says:

    I enjoy this raw, too. Usually sprinkle the strips with a little lemon juice, sea salt and olive oil so they soften & marinate a bit.

  14. Laura T says:

    Thank you for turning me on to such a wonderful recipe/idea. I added some black beans to the sauce for some protein.

  15. jp says:

    i found you on tastespotting and i knew i had to make this recipe. it was AMAZING. the video was very helpful and i decided to try this after seeing how easy it was to make the noodles. my boyfriend even loved the tomato sauce and requested it a second time. this is a feat in itself because he is ridiculously picky about tomato sauce. the only things i did differently was cook the sauce for twice as long before adding the fresh tomatoes using all of the juice from the can and a pinch of sugar. thank you for a delicious dinner.

  16. P. says:

    Please be warned this is not a low-calore (or *really* healthy) recipe: 100g of Italian pasta provide about 200 calories; the 2 TABLEspoons of olive oil you required in your recipe provide about the same – and you’re basically frying the squash in oil on top of it… no wonder it is delicious!

    A low-calorie alterative would be to cook the sauce with about one TEAspoon of olive oil (about 40 calories), and grill the zucchini in some way so that they come out as pasta-like… I’d be definitely interested in a recipe with WAY less olive oil (fats, both vegetable and animal, are enemy n° one in lo-calorie diets).

    PS – Still healthier than buttered waffles or a big mac of course… ^__^

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for your comment, but I strongly disagree that olive oil should be avoided. The calories that would be in real pasta are a hazard to metabolism, while healthy olive oil helps prevent heart disease and staves off hunger. For more info see my article When is a calorie not a calorie over at MizFitOnline.

      • P. says:

        You are right, olive oil might be a great choice for some diets.

        However, my personal experience (at least here in Italy) is that you run no risk of using too little oil, and that the degree of finesse needed to evaluate the healthy dose is often lost to some who are “just trying to lose a pound or two”.

        The suggestion to “Avoid pasta or bread” (which as you may imagine is very frequent over here) makes a lot of people forget they should also use less fats in cooking – not doing can result in a healthier diet, but no final weight loss and much psychological pain. What I was pointing out is that sometimes substituting pasta with vegetables might look like a “magic bullet”, but if you don’t pay attention to your whole diet, you could and up disappointed, at least weight-wise.

        The recipe sounds good, though, and I _will_ be trying it… ^__^

      • melissapbr says:

        Actually, everybody has different dietary needs. I am on a gluten-free, no sugar diet for chronic health reasons, and I need extra calories whenever I can get them. This usually means extra healthy oils on my serving of salad or a recipe like this one. Rather than saying that a recipe has too much olive oil, you could encourage people to check labels. My olive oil has 120 cal/tbsp, and I always have to add an extra tbsp or two, or add some avocado or nuts to get up to a healthy calorie count for the day. Other people might have to reduce the oils in a recipe. This is not a dieting recipe, but as part of a healthy lifestyle it should work great.

      • Darya Pino says:

        Great points, Melissa. Thanks for contributing!

  17. Henny says:

    you just made my day. I am GF and DF (and allergic to 4 million other things) so I’m always looking for good new recipes that actually use fresh foods. I’m excited to try this tomorrow! (except I’m not vegan so I’ll be using meat in some way – probably sauteed chicken or something)

  18. Adam says:

    Thanks! I really liked using squash for noodles. Made my own sauce tweaking your recipe a bit (added capers and mushrooms) and it was INCREDIBLE.

  19. whirrly says:

    hi – just wanted to say thanks for this great recipe! i tried it last night, and it was fantastic. what a great idea – and my husband loved it too! i found you through lifehacker, and i’m so glad i did. :)

  20. Erin says:

    Hi – Could you use butternut squash for this recipe?
    Thanks,

    Erin

    • Darya Pino says:

      Hi Erin,

      No, butternut and other winter squash and gourds are very hard and have thick skin, so you need a different recipe. If you’d like to use winter squash try a spaghetti squash which can be roasted and scraped into thin noodle-like strands. I do not have a recipe for that yet on Summer Tomato but I will try it this winter.

  21. Laura says:

    Wow this was so yummy and fresh, loved it! So glad my husband found your website through Lifehacker.

  22. Rich says:

    This was wonderful… made it last night. Will definitely make it again!

  23. Excellent use of squash. I used your noodle making method, along with some meandering around the kitchen to make a southwest inspired sauce to top it off with. I mentioned this post with a link in my blog as to share this brilliant idea.

  24. GG says:

    I like using Spaghetti Squash for my “noodles”… and another way I love to top them is with white clam sauce… I make this clam sauce with olive oil, white wine, clams, clam juice, garlic, shallots, parsley & maybe some oysters as well – so delicious!

  25. alessandra says:

    Hi, I have tried this zucchini pasta and i loved it. I am italian and I live in Naples and it is a very tasty pasta substitute. Grazie!

  26. baahar says:

    Nice recipe !! One thing you can do with the seed core is to freeze them for later use in soups … Because I very much dislike to throw away food, I often put them in my red lentil soup.

    They are also great to use along with spinach as a filling for börek ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Börek ). I will work on a whole grain flour recipe for that, because I recently gave up eating white flour.

  27. John says:

    Just wondering why you add water to the garlic. I’ve never seen that technique before and it seems against the idea of sauteing. That said, this recipe looks good and is too simple not try.

    Thanks,
    John

    • Darya Pino says:

      Soaking serves 2 purposes: First it prevents it from burning and becoming bitter. It also helps distribute the flavor in the sauce. I hope you try it! Use good zucchini when you can find them :)

  28. Quynh says:

    I just made this last night. It was really easy and quick, and soooo yummy!

    I didn’t have fresh basil, so I put in some fresh cilantro instead but also had some dry basil flakes. Plus, I added in some onions and it came out really great!

    I will definitely be having this dish more often.

  29. Sarah says:

    YUM! Thank you!

  30. Karen B says:

    I don’t like pasta, eat gluten free and my husband is Italian and wants pasta often. Zucchini pasta is my substitute and I love it more than any flour pasta with all kinds of sauces. I use a mandolin with an attachment that turns the zucchini into angel hair in no time. I use the entire zucchini, even the very center, then steam it for just a couple of minutes. Delish. The only thing about this pasta is that it doesn’t stick-to-my-ribs and I am always hungry again just a couple of hours later.

  31. Liz says:

    Hi Darya,

    This looks utterly divine! Guess what’s on the menu for tomorrow? Thanks for sharing.

    :-) Liz

  32. Melissa says:

    Squash is my favorite and I’ve been looking for a recipe like this for awhile now that was really simple. I tried it yesterday and it was perfect. Thank you! I enjoy reading your blog. :)

  33. Berthold says:

    I’ve largely given up on shedding those last few pounds. Wouldn’t want to give up pasta, though I always add in great amounts of sauce and a side of fruit, salad or veggies. In Italy, it used to be served as an entrée before lunch.

    That said, I’m so trying that next week with zucchini. Bought eggplants this week, and am still pondering whether to fry them, turn them into a dip or have them end up in pasta sauce. Oh the choices…

  34. Natalie says:

    Darya,

    I’m new to the site and think its wonderful. So many great ideas! I tried the squash noodles and they were delicious. Even my skeptical husband liked them. You’ve also introduced me to the joys of sardines and muesli (separately of course), which are now staples in my pantry. And I love the farmers market photos! Thanks and keep up the good work.

  35. Berthold says:

    Alright, they were rather troublesome to make and will not replace ordinary pasta anytime soon. Yet, with me homemade chunky tomato sauce and a dash of grated cheese, these make a light, very enjoyable summer dish. 4 zucchini turned into 2 smallish servings, so you want to maybe round it off with something else – dare I suggest fresh bread? Ciabatta with olive chunks?

  36. Rainyday says:

    Glad I stumbled upon your site! Tried this tonight – it was tasty. My boys (2 and 4) weren’t thrilled with it, but hubby and I were pleased. We served it with a chickpea salad, guacamole and corn chips… and a rum cooler.

  37. Linda Davis says:

    looks so yummy. We have SO much yellow squash in our garden. I will be trying this tonight.

    • Linda Davis says:

      I have tried this several times now, with great pride, from squash, tomatoes and basil from my garden. I have even served it to guests, who just raved about it. A question and a suggestion:

      Question: do you mean for the water and the garlic to go into the oil? I have done it this way each time, but the splattering is of concern. Could you clarify please?

      Suggestion: tonight I made the recipe; I doubled it and mixed the squash with some curly pasta. It was a nice twist!

    • Darya Pino says:

      Glad you like it! I do add the garlic to the oil, but you can add it after the tomatoes if you prefer. It’ll still taste awesome :)

  38. Van Chick says:

    Great recipe! I recommend keeping the noodles raw and getting a spiral noodle maker if you can, they are AWESOME!
    I adapted this recipe last night as part of my clean eating challenge for August, thanks Darya!
    http://vanchick.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/eating-clean-august-day-2-august-4th/

  39. Kristen says:

    This was super tasty! I will be making this again, in fact, I’m adding it to my personal recipe book! Super tasty, flavorful and summery.

  40. Jeni says:

    Do you need to throw out the skin – or is it included?

  41. scott paulus says:

    Darya. Great idea. My wife and I figured this out last summer as a way to use surplus zucchini. We also dehydrated a large quantity and use it all winter for lasagna. Just rehydrate with water or vegetable broths

  42. Alana says:

    Hi Darya,

    I’m on staff at Synapse and I heard you speak a few weeks ago. I just tried this squash noodle recipe, and it was amazing! Good luck with all things Summer Tomato.

    -Alana

  43. Tai says:

    I just made this for dinner and it was great! I am on the Four Hour Body “Slow Carb Diet” and this recipe was recommended. I don’t know if I will ever go back to pasta again. This was sooo tasty and healthy that I almost ate the whole thing. This will help me stay on track to lose weight for my vacation! Thanks!

  44. Chris says:

    I’m with you on the thought about pasta–like eating too much bread. Turns to sugar and before you know, you’re “wearing” it. This is a great alternative to pasta… simple too. Can’t wait to try it!

  45. EmilyKate says:

    This is the first recipe I have tried since finding your site several months ago Darya. I’m another one who has used the zucchini instead as I have never seen summer squash here in Australia. Years ago when we started trying to eat healthier we converted a lot of our favourite pasta recipes into salad versions and now we’re excited to be able to turn them back into pasta dishes.

  46. Epicurea says:

    this looks like a great variation on pasta – although i am not sure i agree about the bad rep that pasta seems to have. nowadays, there are so many great whole grain pastas (for really good review in the new york times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/dining/13appe.html ), and to me it seems that by eating it with loads of veggies, you have a great source of fiber and decently healthy meal. so maybe one can eat the zucchini pasta together with the real pasta :-).

  47. Allie says:

    Thank you so much for this! I have been grossed out by pasta recently. Also – is brown rice just as bad as pasta? I really like eating brown rice but I’m unaware of whether or not it is bad for weight loss.

  48. Diane says:

    Hi Darya –
    I am new to this site, but am very impressed. I have Celiac disease and my attempts at making homemade gluten-free pasta were disastrous. This was easy, light, delicious and healthy. I can’t wait to try this with other sauces. Yay!

  49. Maggie Cain says:

    I think this was a very good recipe, but why make the association to pasta? It’s sauteed zucchini ribbons with tomato sauce – a wonderful vegetable side dish on its own. If I’d told my family “this is a pasta substitute,” they would have turned their noses up at it, but as a veg alternative to steamed broccoli (boring!), they were delighted.

  50. Alexandra says:

    I recived a 17″ summer squash yesterday and I had no idea what to do with it, then I came across this recipe and decided to try it. I am making it right now for my mom and brother… I hope it turns out good!!!

  51. Alexandra says:

    my noodles are getting a lot of extra “juice” when I cook it so I am going to strain it, but any tips on how to cook the noodles???

  52. Samantha says:

    This recipe has changed my life. I don’t think I will ever go back to regular pasta. This had such a great flavor and I really like the tomato sauce recipe with it. I just love that I can have this great taste and still feel light and energetic after I eat it. My husband is not a pasta eater and he actually really enjoyed this dish!

  53. I’ve recently gone gluten-free for medical reasons, and have been lamenting the loss of pasta (which I eat rarely but greatly enjoy)! I made this today and I, my husband, and my one-year-old son all loved it…I can see it becoming a staple in the summer months when we get a ton of squash in our CSA share :)

  54. Margaret says:

    Always looking for an alternative to pasta and have tried squash many different ways — stumbled across this idea and couldn’t wait to try it! (I waited only two days.) It was great. I love summer squash in many different incarnations but this was the first time I actually felt like I was eating pasta except I wasn’t eating pasta! I made it incredibly low-fat, low-calorie … non-stick pan and olive oil cooking spray instead of 2 T oil … but definitely not non-taste! Fresh sauteed veggies on top: chopped fresh tomato, hot pepper and green beans from the garden, portobello mushrooms, eggplant, onion, minced garlic (and roasted garlic for good measure) and a little tomato sauce with basil to bind it all together … it was fabulous. I’m totally psyched for the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch! Thanks, this is a real keeper.

  55. Joe says:

    I can affirm that zuks make a great pasta alternative. Fast, delicious and healthy. Add some crumbled feta on top for added flavor and satiation.

    Yep.

    -Joe

  56. Trying this tonight. I found a Light Stroganoff recipe that I wanted to try, but not over rice or noodles. I was very sad, and didn’t think I could make the ‘spaghetti’ without some sort of crazy tool so I am Sooooo excited I found your site and had the ‘duh moment’ of why didn’t I think of that? :) Thanks and will be back for more tips and recipes.

  57. Erin says:

    This was phenomenal!!!!!!!!!! Seriously, as you said, life-changing. No more will I dread the abundance of summer squash in the…summer. We have more coming in our delivery this week and I’m really excited about it. Thank you!!

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