Zucchini pesto pasta is a simple pasta dish that's filled with fresh summer flavor! Homemade pesto is made with zucchini, basil, garlic, and parmesan cheese, then tossed with fresh cooked pasta for an easy weeknight meal.
Zucchini pesto pasta is an easy dish to prepare when you're short on time. Especially if you're still looking for a homemade meal that's flavorful and filling!
Zucchini pesto is made using shredded zucchini, basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. It's a a lighter take on a classic pesto, with zucchini adding a creamy texture and fresh flavor.
Serve zucchini pesto pasta on its own for a light meal, alongside your favorite protein, or with a side salad and crusty bread. It's easy to pair with favorites like grilled chicken, baked salmon, or sautéed shrimp.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Zucchini - You'll need two cups of drained shredded zucchini for this recipe. This equals about one large zucchini or two small zucchini. Remember, you'll want to squeeze out most of the liquid from your shredded zucchini before mixing your pesto. Otherwise, it can turn out watery.
- Basil - One cup of loosely packed fresh basil leaves are a must for pesto. It's the main ingredient and adds much of the flavor. Other flavorful fresh herbs like cilantro or mint could work, if you're looking for a different flavor of pesto.
- Garlic - I highly recommend using fresh garlic cloves, not minced garlic from a jar. Once garlic has been minced, the flavor begins to change. Oftentimes, garlic in a jar has a very harsh flavor compared to fresh garlic.
- Parmesan cheese - Freshly grated parmesan cheese adds the best flavor to your pesto. I highly recommend adding extra parmesan cheese on top of your pasta just before serving.
- Pine nuts - For those with allergies, pine nuts can easily be substituted with walnuts, sunflower seeds, or almonds.
- Lemon juice - Adds brightness and helps cut through the richness of the olive oil.
- Salt and pepper - Add depth of flavor to your pesto. Feel free to add more or less to suit your tastes.
- Olive oil - A quality extra virgin olive oil is best for a pesto.
- Pasta - I used spaghetti, but feel free to use your favorite pasta shape (find more suggestions below).
What kind of pasta to use
Use your favorite pasta shape in this recipe. Any pasta will work! To substitute, use 16 ounces (dry weight) of your favorite pasta shape.
A few popular choices:
- Farfalle (bow ties)
Leftovers and reheating
Leftover zucchini pesto pasta will keep in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days and reheats well in the microwave or in a saucepan over medium heat with a splash of water.
Pasta generally does not freeze well, so I do not recommend freezing any assembled leftovers. Zucchini pesto on its own can be frozen in a tightly sealed container for 3 to 4 months.
What to serve with pesto pasta
Pesto pasta can be served on its own as a light main dish, with a side salad or crusty bread for a more filling meal, or with your favorite protein. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Side salad
- Crusty bread
- Baked salmon
- Grilled chicken
- Garlic bread
- Sautéed shrimp
- Roasted vegetables
Zucchini Pesto Pasta
- 16 ounces spaghetti, uncooked
- 2 cups shredded zucchini, liquid squeezed out before measuring
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, *
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- In a large stock pot of salted, boiling water, cook spaghetti to al dente according to package directions. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and return to stock pot.
- Make sure excess liquid is squeezed out of your shredded zucchini before measuring. Place shredded zucchini into a kitchen towel or multiple layers of paper towels, then gently squeeze over the kitchen sink.
- To the bowl of a large food processor, add shredded zucchini, basil, garlic cloves, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse a few times, until ingredients form a fairly uniform, chunky paste.
- Turn on the food processor and slowly stream in olive oil. Process until desired consistency and texture is achieved, adding as much olive oil as needed. You may need slightly less than what's listed, depending on how much liquid is left in your zucchini.
- Pour pesto over cooked pasta, along with about half of the reserved pasta water. Toss until evenly coated. Add more pasta water as desired to achieve desired sauce consistency. Do a taste test and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.
- Optionally, garnish with parmesan cheese before serving.
- * In case of allergies, pine nuts can be substituted with sunflower seeds, almonds, or walnuts.
- Recipe serves 4 as a main course, or 6-8 as a side dish.
- Leftover pesto pasta will oxidize over time, but will keep for 3-4 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Or, zucchini pesto (without the pasta) can be frozen for up to 3 months in a tightly sealed, freezer safe container. Cooked pasta does not freeze well.
- 16 ounces of spaghetti can be substituted with the same weight of your favorite pasta shape.