Make use of that garden zucchini with a batch of fresh zucchini pesto. Made with basil, zucchini, pine nuts, oil, and parmesan cheese, this pesto tastes creamy, fresh, and light - it's perfect for summer!
Homemade pesto is the perfect way to use up all that summer garden produce. Fresh basil and zucchini are popular in home gardens - both are easy to grow and plentiful!
Zucchini pesto, or pesto di zucchini, tastes much like a classic basil pesto, but with a lighter, fresher flavor. The main flavors of this pesto are basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts (which can easily be substituted with walnuts or sunflower seeds for those with allergies).
This recipe is made easily (in seconds) by using a food processor - you're going to love it! Toss your favorite cooked pasta in zucchini pesto, use as a sauce on homemade pizza, or slather onto crusty bread as an appetizer.
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. Asiago and Pecorino Romano are great alternatives. Want to make your pesto dairy free? Try using nutritional yeast instead.
- 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. You can also add lemon zest for a more lemony pesto.
- 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.
How to make pesto without a food processor
Want to make zucchini pesto, but don't have a food processor? Good news, you can also use your blender. Don't have a blender?
Pesto can be made by hand, but will take quite a bit more work and time - about 20 minutes of chopping. With a sharp knife, finely mince your zucchini (squeezing out excess water), basil leaves, garlic cloves, and pine nuts. Then, add all of your ingredients to a bowl and stir until combined. A hand chopped pesto has a classic, rustic quality, and may arguably be even better than its blended cousin!
How to prevent pesto from turning brown
Zucchini pesto will oxidize and turn brown over time (just like guacamole). To help preserve pesto in the refrigerator, store in a tightly sealed container. Drizzle a layer of olive oil over the top - this creates a barrier between your pesto and the air, which will prevent oxidation. Storing with this method will keep your pesto for up to five days in the refrigerator (however it will degrade over time).
If you're not using all of your pesto within a day or two, I highly recommend freezing leftovers to preserve the fresh flavor. Pesto can be stored in a small jar, freezer safe bag, or frozen into ice cube trays for single use later. Once your pesto cubes are frozen, they can be popped out of the tray and stored in a freezer safe container for up to three months.
Ways to use zucchini pesto
- Toss with cooked pasta.
- Spread onto crusty bread.
- Use as a pizza sauce.
- Spread onto chicken, top with cheese, and bake.
- Spread onto cooked fish.
- Add to scrambled eggs.
- Stir into a dip or dressing for extra flavor.
- Add a spoonful (or a frozen cube, see above) to marinara sauce while it cooks.
- Use as a sandwich spread (like on a BLT or turkey sandwich).
- 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
- 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.
- Serve immediately with crusty bread as an appetizer, or add to any recipes calling for pesto as an ingredient.
- * In case of allergies, pine nuts can be substituted with sunflower seeds, almonds, or walnuts.
- If not using immediately, transfer pesto to a tightly sealing storage container, top with a thin layer of oil, and refrigerate. A layer of oil helps prevent oxidation.
- Pesto will turn brown over time (just like guacamole). Fresh pesto is best used within 2 days, but will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator when stored as suggested above.
- Pesto can be frozen for up to 3 months in a tightly sealed, freezer safe container.