I am on a mission to convince all the doubters (like me!) that zucchini spaghetti is DELISH! Especially when it's tossed with lots of Mediterranean yum...sundried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and artichoke hearts. Add some basil, garlic, and mizithra cheese, top it off with garlicky toasted breadcrumbs, and we've got a hearty Mediterranean side dish that'll be the star of any meal!
I had very mixed feelings about zucchini spaghetti until pretty much right now. I was confused about how to make it or cook it, and no one in my family was impressed with any of my attempts. But you guys, I have finally seen the light! If you’ve been reluctant to try zucchini as pasta, this Mediterranean zucchini spaghetti recipe will change your mind too.
How to cook zucchini spaghetti
When I started working with zucchini noodles (or zoodles, as they are sometimes called), they seemed to just get soggy and limp no matter how I prepared them. Blanching, sautéing, roasting, baking, nothing worked. Have you found the same thing? They usually taste fine, but more often than not the texture is just…not a substitute for pasta.
I finally discovered that the real secret is to barely cook your zucchini noodles. For real! In this Mediterranean zucchini spaghetti recipe, they are simply tossed into the pan with the other ingredients, given just a few minutes to cook gently, and they’re done. They are tender but still al dente and full of zucchini flavor.
I also toss in some whole wheat spaghetti to provide some structure to keep the zucchini noodles together. It also adds enough fiber and protein to make this a hearty, satisfying vegetarian main. You can of course make this dish with all zucchini or all whole wheat pasta, and it'll still be awesome.
Working with whole wheat pasta
For a long time, my family was NOT INTERESTED in eating whole wheat spaghetti. And I’ll admit, while it’s definitely healthier, it’s not always a great substitute for pasta made with semolina wheat. But I’ve played around with it a lot in my kitchen, and I’ve discovered there are times when whole wheat spaghetti really works:
- In preparations that don’t involve a creamy sauce.
- When it’s paired with strong flavors that can compete with the more robust taste of whole wheat.
- In dishes that involve multiple contrasting textures (like zucchini!)
This Mediterranean zucchini spaghetti recipe is all three of these things...and results in a vegetarian side dish that is not just healthy, but delicious and satisfying.
A quick word to the wise…don’t overcook your pasta! Whole wheat spaghetti is by nature more dense and chewy than semolina wheat pasta. In the case of this dish, that is an advantage! If you haven’t worked with whole wheat pasta before, resist the temptation to cook the pasta until it’s mushy, and stick close to the cooking time on the packaging.
Tips to make the perfect Mediterranean zucchini spaghetti
- Use a julienne peeler to get your zucchini noodles as thin as possible. You can also use a spiralizer, although I find spiral noodles break a little more readily and don’t incorporate with the spaghetti as well. It’ll taste just fine though! I use this OXO Good Grips Julienne Y-Peeler from Amazon.
- Avoid the seedy center of the zucchini. The centers are seedy and tend to not hold together as well, so I start peeling on the outside of the zucchini and stop when I start to hit the seeds. I then turn the zucchini and repeat the process until all I have left is the core. You can save the center for another use, or chop it up and throw it in while you are sautéing the rest of the ingredients before you add the pasta.
- Use artichoke hearts packed in water, not oil. I use these quartered artichoke hearts from Napoleon, which are always nice and firm and not too salty. You can also use frozen artichoke hearts, just thaw them in the refrigerator before you start cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have a spiralizer, go ahead and use that! The curly noodles won’t incorporate quite as well as the straight ones, but it will taste just fine. You also just use a knife to cut long, thin noodles from your zucchini, or even grate them with a box grater.
Mizithra cheese is a Greek whey cheese that is milder than feta, but still has a salty/savory bite. Traditional versions of mizithra are vegetarian, but some are made with rennet, so if you are vegetarian, be sure to check ingredients carefully. Also be aware of blends that also include Parmesan or Romano cheeses, which are not vegetarian (including the Olde Spaghetti Factory version that is widely available). The Krinos’s mizithra cheese sold at stores in the Safeway/Albertsons chain does not contain rennet.
If you can’t find mizithra, you can substitute ricotta salata or feta cheese. I also recently had a friend recommend this plant based Parmesan alternative. Have you tried it? If you have, I’d love to hear how it is in the comments.
I generally serve this dish as a hearty side for grilled chicken or fish. It's filling enough that it just takes a few ounces of simply prepared protein to make it a full meal. I've also enjoyed it as a vegetarian main dish with some warm, herby beans on the side.
Prep ahead and storage information
You can prep all of the ingredients in this dish ahead of time except for the garlic. Make the zucchini spaghetti no more than a day in advance. The whole wheat spaghetti can be cooked up to three days ahead. I recommend bringing it up to room temperature before adding it to the pan, and giving it a couple of extra minutes to heat up.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. It reheats beautifully in the microwave.
I love hearing from you!
Drop me a question, a comment, or a rating and let me know what you think of this Mediterranean zucchini pasta. You’ll make my day! And don’t forget to save this recipe by pinning on Pinterest or saving to Yummly, Whisk, or Flipboard.
Mediterranean Zucchini Spaghetti
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil divided
- ⅓ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs optional
- ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic optional
- ¼ pound whole wheat spaghetti
- 2 medium zucchinis
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
- 1 can artichoke heart quarters drained
- ½ cup sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil julienned
- ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives halved
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt start with half if using table salt or Morton's kosher salt and adjust to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper or to taste
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or verjus, or white wine
- ½ cup basil leaves, torn plus more for garnish
- ¼ cup shredded mizithra cheese see notes for substitutions
- Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Combine the breadcrumbs and granulated garlic in a small bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and set aside.
- Cook the pasta according to the directions and drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Use a julienne peeler to cut long, thin strips from the zucchini.
- Heat ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and sauté for 1 minute.
- Add the artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and olives. Toss gently while allowing everything to heat through for 1-2 minutes. Add the whole wheat spaghetti and use tongs to gently mix everything together.
- Add the zucchini noodles, lemon juice, and the reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add half the mizithra cheese and the basil. Heat through for another 1-2 minutes, tossing a couple of times. Taste and adjust your seasoning if needed.
- Transfer everything to a pasta bowl (scrape it out well with a spatula) and return the pan to the stove over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs to the pan and toast, stirring, until brown and crunchy. This should only take 1-3 minutes if your pan is still hot.
- Top the pasta with the remaining mizithra cheese, basil, and toasted breadcrumbs.
- When using the julienne peeler to make zucchini spaghetti, it gets kind of dicey when you get to the seedy middle of the zucchini. I usually save the middle for something else, or you can also chop it and throw it in to sauté with the other vegetables.
- Mizithra cheese is a traditional Greek whey cheese. Please be aware some versions are made with animal rennet or blended with cheeses, such as Romano, that are not vegetarian-friendly. If you can’t find a version made with whey, substitute ricotta salata (which is a semi-hard version of ricotta cheese, super-delish), feta cheese, or a plant-based Parmesan alternative.
- If you are not using pasta, or made your spaghetti ahead of time, use ⅓ cup very hot tap water in place of the pasta water to steam the zucchini a bit.