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Dinner Together: Spiral zucchini ‘noodles’ perfect base for summer salad

This summer staple is made even lighter with zucchini “noodles” instead of pasta and it can be customized for specific dietary needs. (Lorie Hutson / The Spokesman-Review)

The last thing I needed was a new kitchen gadget, but I could not resist all the recipes that substitute long, slender spirals of vegetables for pasta.

Between magazines, Pinterest and cookbooks devoted to uses for “spiralized” vegetables and fruit, I think I was just worn down. However, the idea of having a replacement for pasta AND bumping up my intake of nutrient-rich fruit and veggies is a worthy cause.

The unexpected benefit was that when I finally caved and bought myself a spiral slicer, my youngest son had so much fun cutting vegetables with me that it boosted his vegetable intake, too. Now, he’s “spiralizing” cucumber, zucchini and carrots to snack on, and cutting pears to make breakfast muffins.

We recently used spiral-cut zucchini to substitute for noodles in a classic summer salad featuring pesto, garden tomatoes and shrimp. The result was a delicious, light dinner that came together quickly on a warm, summer evening.

The zucchini is a great substitute for pasta, with a nice “al dente” bite. There is no need to heat up the kitchen with boiling water. For gluten-free eaters, it’s a great meal without funky pasta substitutes.

Although we threw in shrimp to make it a meal, chicken is an easy substitute. For vegetarian eaters, leave out the meat or substitute tofu. If you’re serving vegans, be sure to make a pesto that doesn’t call for cheese.

The zucchini loses some of its moisture while it sits, so this dish is best eaten just after it is prepared.

Zucchini “Noodles” with Pesto and Garden Tomatoes

For the pesto

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts or pine nuts

2 garlic cloves, peeled

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups basil leaves (about 4 ounces)

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the salad

3 small zucchini squash, cut with a spiral slicer

2 large garden tomatoes

Cooked shrimp, tofu or chicken breast pieces, if desired

To make the pesto, drop nuts and garlic through chute with food processor on and process until minced. Add oil. Pulse 3 times. Add basil, cheese, and salt and process until finely minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Spiral slice zucchini to make noodles. Slice or chop tomatoes. Toss noodles, tomatoes and shrimp, chicken or tofu pieces with desired amount of pesto.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings