Baked zucchini pasta is a flavorful casserole recipe that's ready in under an hour and made with simple pantry ingredients. Penne pasta and cubed zucchini are coated in a creamy herb sauce that's topped with a crunchy panko crust and baked to perfection in the oven.
You'll love this baked zucchini pasta because it's made with simple, inexpensive ingredients and turns out creamy and flavorful. It's a great way to feed a crowd during those busy summer months!
Penne pasta (or your favorite pasta shape) and cubed zucchini are tossed in a homemade creamy herb sauce, then topped with a buttery panko crust that bakes up golden brown and crunchy in the oven.
This recipe is perfect for a weeknight summer meal when garden zucchini is abundant. Add your favorite protein, like shredded rotisserie chicken, for some extra volume.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Pasta - I used penne for my casserole, but any medium sized pasta, like bow tie or macaroni, will work.
- Butter - Unsalted butter and a pinch of the listed salt can be substituted with salted butter if desired.
- Aromatics - Garlic and onion add flavor to the cream sauce. I don't recommend omitting either ingredient.
- Seasoning - Salt, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning add a mild herb flavor with a hint of heat. For a milder casserole, substitute the red pepper flakes with black pepper instead.
- Flour - All-purpose flour and butter are mixed to create a roux, which thickens the cream sauce.
- Zucchini - You'll need about 3 medium zucchini or 5 small zucchini for this recipe. Zucchini could be substituted with summer squash if desired.
- Broth - Chicken broth or vegetable broth works in this recipe. I recommend using regular broth, not a low or no sodium variety. The broth adds significant flavor to the sauce.
- Milk - I recommend using whole milk for a thick, creamy sauce. Milk could be substituted with half & half for an even richer casserole. Using lower fat milk will create a thinner sauce and can cause the cream sauce to break if heated too high.
- Fresh herbs - I highly recommend topping your casserole with some fresh herbs just before serving. I used chives today, but fresh basil, parsley, or dill are great alternatives.
- Panko - Creates a crunchy topping on the casserole. Panko, butter, and salt could be substituted with some crushed butter crackers if desired.
Tips and tricks
Allow cream sauce to thicken - When cooking the cream sauce, make sure it thickly coats the back of a spoon before removing from the heat. This ensures your casserole doesn't turn out too thin.
For a smooth sauce, use a whisk - After you've made your roux, slowly whisk the broth and milk into the pan and continue whisking until your sauce looks smooth. Whisk frequently throughout cooking to prevent lumps.
Like softer zucchini? - As written, the zucchini cooks very little in the casserole and maintains a bit of texture and firmness after baking. If you prefer very soft zucchini, add it to the cream sauce during the last 2-3 minutes of cooking to allow the zucchini to cook slightly.
Frequently asked questions
Soggy zucchini is the result of overcooking. Many casserole recipes call for par-cooking the zucchini before baking in the oven. This recipe does not require par-cooking because I think it's unnecessary and can easily lead to soggy zucchini. If your zucchini is cubed fairly thick (about 1 inch or larger cubes), and you're not cooking the casserole longer than directed, the zucchini will come out firm and perfectly cooked - not soggy.
No, there's no need to peel your zucchini for this recipe. If you're using a very large zucchini, it may have tough skin - in this case you may choose to peel it.
Any cooked protein you have on hand can be added along with the zucchini while assembling your casserole. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Can of drained tuna
- Shredded rotisserie chicken
- Crumbled, cooked Italian sausage (drain excess grease before adding)
- Leftover Thanksgiving turkey
- Leftover cubed holiday ham
Leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator and reheat well in the microwave.
Baked Zucchini Pasta
- 12 ounces (340 g) penne pasta, uncooked
- ¼ cup (56 g) unsalted butter
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
- 16 ounces (453 g) chicken broth
- 12 ounces (340 g) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 medium zucchini, cubed
- 1 cup (50 g) panko bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoon (42 g) unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives, as a garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9x13 casserole dish and set aside.
- In a salted pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions for al dente pasta. Drain well, pour pasta into the prepared 9x13 pan, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, add butter. Once hot and melted, add diced onions. Cook until onions begin to brown and turn translucent. Add garlic and flour, then cook for 1 additional minute.
- Add chicken broth and milk, whisking continuously until incorporated and smooth. Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce has thickened slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and add salt, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and zucchini, stirring to combine. Pour mixture over noodles and gently toss to coat.
- In a bowl, combine bread crumbs, melted butter, and salt. Sprinkle evenly over casserole.
- Bake uncovered for about 15-18 minutes, or until casserole is hot and bubbling in the center. Optionally, broil for 2 minutes to brown crust on top. Do not walk away from your oven while broiling, your crust will brown quickly.
- Top with fresh chopped chives (or your favorite fresh herb) just before serving.
- Leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator and reheat well in the microwave.
- Optional: Add a cooked protein along with the zucchini while assembling your casserole. A can of drained tuna, shredded rotisserie chicken, cooked and crumbled Italian sausage, or leftover Thanksgiving turkey/ham are great additions.