I always make big plans for my free days or weekends, with the best of intentions. I say I’m going to clean out my closet, finally perfect my brown butter croissant recipe, or spend a whole day prepping meals for the following week. I never, ever do these things. Who do you think I am, superwoman? I usually end up sleeping in, lazily making breakfast, and then I sit around spending way too much time looking at trending recipes, or dream places I could one day live, or fantasy jobs I could one day have. Right now my ideal job is to be a recipe tester at Bon Appetit (but, I mean, whose isn’t. It’s like the unicorn of jobs).
By the time I finally get around to doing anything productive on weekends, half the day is gone and I have to rush around just to get all my necessary errands done. On days like these, I’m always relieved to have a quick, healthy dinner recipe I can pull out of my back pocket. Enter the mighty quinoa bowl.
First, we need to talk about zucchini noodles. They’ve been around long enough for them to be pretty common throughout the food blogosphere, and I’ve even seen them in restaurants. Whether raw, sautéed or boiled, there’s a reason they spread like the plague.
They’re perfect. Look, I adore real pasta. But zucchini noodles, or zoodles, are so texturally versatile and can easily and sneakily take pasta’s place when they’re covered in sauce. And they actually taste GOOD. Dear zucchini haters: you’ve met your match. And when they’re raw? They’re still wonderfully flexible yet slightly crunchy, which is ideal for salads…or quinoa bowls.
I also really need to tell you about this pesto. I love pesto almost more than I love pasta, and luckily for me, there are so many different ways to eat it. In a sandwich! As salad dressing! Dip apple slices in it! (Seriously. Dip an apple in it.)
But this ain’t your mama’s pesto – arugula is used in place of basil, giving it a spicy/peppery kick, then the leftover zucchini cores are thrown in too to mellow it all out. The result is an extra creamy yet super flavorful pesto that begs you to eat it with a spoon. “EAT ME”, it says. Really.
The recipe below makes 4 cups of pesto so that you can have a lot left over. If you really don’t like arugula, this pesto recipe will work with traditional basil too (or you can check out our other two recipes for basil pesto here). I eat quinoa zoodle bowls regularly with different add-ins and sauces, but this arugula-zucchini-pesto variation is by far my favorite.Arugula Zucchini Pesto Quinoa Bowl
3/4 cup quinoa
2 zucchini (the longer and fatter the better)
For the Pesto:
1/2 cup almonds
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp salt
4 cups baby arugula
3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cups parmesan
juice from half a lemon
2 cups baby arugula
2 medium tomatoes
salt + pepper to taste
Prepare the quinoa according to package instructions, then set it aside to cool. I like to add a tablespoon of olive oil before the lid goes on. While it’s cooking, start working on your zucchini.
After washing the zucchini and cutting off the ends, use a julienne peel to make the zoodles: starting at the base, peel down one side of the zucchini until you hit the seeds, then stop and turn the zucchini. Peel your way all the way around until you’ve hit the core of seeds. Chop these cores up into 1/2-inch pieces and set them aside for later.
In a small non-stick frying pan, toast the almonds on medium-low heat until they smell nutty and fragrant and look slightly darker. (You can also toast them in the oven, but I find it easier to use the stove-top when working with such a small amount of nuts). Transfer the almonds to a 4-cup food processor or blender, then throw the 2 cloves of garlic – peels on – into the same frying pan and heat for a 2-3 minutes, until slightly tan and aromatic. This roasting softens the garlic’s bite. Remove from heat and peel them, then toss them into the food processor with the almonds.
Process the almonds and garlic with the salt for a few seconds until roughly chopped. Add the arugula and olive oil and continue processing – I do 2 cups of arugula at a time so my food processor isn’t overwhelmed. Add the parmesan, process, then toss in the zucchini cores and lemon juice. Taste the pesto and add more lemon or salt/pepper if you’d like.
Roughly chop the tomatoes. Assemble your quinoa bowls by spooning one cup of quinoa and half the zucchini noodles into each bowl, along with an extra 1 cup of arugula and 1 chopped tomato. Spoon about 1/3 cup pesto into each bowl and toss so everything is evenly coated in pesto. Add more salt and pepper and a final squeeze of lemon juice to taste, then finish with a final dollop of pesto, because yes, it’s just that good.