If you read food blogs or follow food bloggers on social media, you’ve most certainly heard of vegetable noodles. I myself have been making vegetable noodles long before the popular spiralizer. I simply used a mandolin – and before then a julienne peeler – to make thin ribbons. And since zucchini noodles are all the rage these days, I’m going to share with you simple, Raw Zucchini Noodles with Marinara Sauce.
Many raw dishes are all about creating familiar textures and flavors but with much healthier ingredients than traditional meals. They are not about mimicking cooked food. Do the zucchini noodles taste like real pasta? Nope. But they’re not supposed to. They are noodles, not pasta. In order to appreciate zucchini noodles for what they are, you need to forget your noodle preconceptions. Zucchini noodles aren’t a pasta’s competitor. They are a separate entity.
However, they do have the right texture so if you’re looking for a healthier (and lighter) alternative to your regular pasta, I would encourage you to give this a try. Zucchini have a really mild flavor so they’re the perfect vehicle for a more assertive pasta sauce, such as the marinara sauce or pesto. This raw marinara sauce is bursting with so much fresh flavor that I am willing to bet that you will prefer it over the cooked version.
So how do your bring this dish to a perfection?
How To Make the Perfect Zucchini Noodles
Pick and choose – there are several things you can do to achieve smooth continuous noodles. First, use vegetables that are at least 2 inches in diameter. Anything smaller will result in half-moon shaped noodles or sliced veggies. Second, aim for straight vegetables. If the only vegetable you have has a curve, cut it in half to reduce the curve and spiralize in two parts. Third, make sure that the central blade on your spiralizer remains centered.
Cut – if you continuously spiralize a vegetable, it yields one extremely long noodle. While it’s not really a problem, it makes it a little difficult to serve and portion. So when you’re done spiralizing, cut the zucchini into regular-sized noodles that are easier to plate and eat. You can go inch by inch or just roughly cut the noodles.
Salt – zucchinis are made up of over 90% water. That’s a lot of water! When you spiralize a zucchini, sprinkle a little salt on the noodles (I use about 1/4 tsp. per 1 medium zucchini) and let them sit for about 30 minutes. The added salt draws water out of zucchini (or any other vegetable with a high water content) via osmosis.
Drain and pat dry – depending on the amount of water brought forth, drain away the liquid using a colander and then pat the noodles dry. I usually lay the noodles down on two layers of paper towel, cover them with two more layers, and then gently lean in to absorb any excess moisture.
Cook (or not) – if I’m preparing zucchini noodles for myself, I always skip the cooking. One of the best things about spiralizing is that it’s quick and easy. You know that you can get a bowl of vegetable noodles in 30 seconds. Plus, I like the idea of eating more raw veggies and enjoy the extra refreshing crunch. However, if I’m preparing the noodles for my husband, I saute them in a separate skillet over high heat (you don’t want to cook low and slow here, or the water will seep out and make the noodles mushy). Once al-dente, put them into a bowl and top them with a fully reduced sauce.
Use tongs – tongs are great because they allow the zucchini to drip dry. You might not use tongs if you’re serving the zucchini straight from the spiralizer. However, if you saute the zucchini and then let them sit for a bit, tongs might be very helpful for serving.
Use pulpy tomatoes – plum tomatoes, such as Amish Paste or Roma, are the best because they are the least watery. I prefer the Roma kind because they’re easily accessible, have a floral aroma, and sweet flavor. Some cooks suggest that the best way to go about making the best tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes is to combine different types of tomatoes. The reason is that the flavors of tomatoes depend not only on the variety, but also where they were grown and other specific environmental conditions. And since it’s hard to predict with certainty the exact flavor profile and balance of sweetness and tartness any given tomato will deliver, the best way to arrive at a balanced sauce is to combine multiple types.
Add sun-dried tomatoes – for an optimal consistency, a typical tomato sauce needs to be reduced (cooked until all extra water evaporates). Well, since this marinara sauce is raw, cooking isn’t really an option. So instead, throw in some sun-dried tomatoes. Sun-dried tomatoes act as a thickener, and also give a concentrated depth of flavor to an otherwise simple sauce. The more sun-dried tomatoes you use, the richer and thicker the sauce will be. However, the more sun-dried tomatoes you use, the less vibrant (and colorful) the sauce will be as well.
Toss in some herbs – basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley … you choose. I like basil the most because it does an excellent job at infusing. It adds slightly sweet, bright, aromatic flavor and compliments the tomatoes perfectly.
Don’t forget the aromatics – aromatics, such as onions and garlic, are a matter of personal preference. Some love them, some stay away from them. I tend to use garlic, but find raw onions too overpowering and more fitting for salsas. That being said, if you’re not going for raw marinara, adding roasted onions and roasted garlic is out of this world. Roasted aromatics produce a sweeter and richer sauce.
As Tanner (my husband) says, “it’s the tomato sauce that makes the noodles”, be it zucchini noodles or durum wheat pasta. The good news is that there’s no right or wrong way to make the tomato sauce. Is it a science? No. Is it an art? Most definitely.