Lemon Zucchini Pasta with Fresh Basil

lemon zucchini pasta in a skillet with a spoon

Let’s be honest, zucchini usually tastes best in disguise: dark chocolate zucchini bread, cinnamon-scented zucchini muffins, deep fried zucchini flowers, etc. I wanted to develop a recipe that embraced summer’s abundant star in its natural form while enhancing its flavor (because, if we’re still being honest, it needs the help). This lemon zucchini pasta recipe with crisp, creamy rounds of the squash and a smattering of fresh basil keeps the vegetable in full view. You’ll know that you’re eating zucchini — but I promise you won’t mind.

It’s good hot or cold, so if you’re looking for a zucchini pasta salad recipe, this one is easy to whip up in the morning before an afternoon summer cookout. Make the recipe as directed, then allow it to cool to room temperature. I think it tastes better at room temp than ice cold, so take it out of the fridge a few hours before dinner time.

As for the “fried” part — I do ask that you stand over a stove of simmering olive oil and tend to (quite a few) rounds of zucchini, but that’s the most labor-intensive part of the recipe. And it is so, so worth it.

The pasta-to-vegetable ratio is about equal, if not leaning more in the vegetable’s favor, making this a great vegetarian recipe to fill up on all summer.

This pasta with zucchini recipe is straightforward and easy to memorize, so you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Then, you’ll know exactly what to do if you wake up on a warm Saturday morning and find your garden overrun with gourds.

You’ll just smile, knowing that dinner will be delicious.

Let’s make Lemon Zucchini Pasta with Basil

Start by boiling a pot of salted water. Then, pick your pasta. I prefer short pasta (farfalle, penne, rotini) for this recipe, but use whatever you like. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than package directions (you’ll finish it in the sauce). Reserve one cup of pasta water, and drain.

While the pasta’s on, heat a high-sided skillet with more olive oil than you’re probably comfortable with (trust!) and add a bunch of sliced zucchini.

raw zucchini in a skillet with olive oil

Fry until golden brown.

fried zucchini in a skillet

Remove the zucchini from the skillet. Turn off heat and add the garlic to the now-empty skillet, swirling the pan to ensure that the garlic doesn’t burn. Once the garlic softens slightly and smells fragrant (30 seconds-1 minute), add the red pepper flakes and lemon zest.

garlic, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest in a skillet

Add the lemon juice and ½ cup of pasta water. Turn the heat back on and bring the sauce to a simmer, then gradually whisk in the Parmesan, adding a small handful at a time and whisking in between each addition, until melted.

light red sauce in a skillet

Add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce and toss, stirring constantly for about 1-2 minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce evenly clings to the pasta.

pasta in a skillet with a light red sauce

Mix in the fried zucchini and basil.

lemon zucchini pasta in a skillet

The zucchini gets a thin, crisp layer on the outside while it turns creamy and custard-like on the inside. The luscious vegetable contrasts with the al dente pasta and the bright, lemony garlic sauce. A flurry of basil leaves freshens everything up.

Full of seasonal produce and fresh herbs, Lemon Zucchini Pasta reminds your palate that it’s officially summer, and shows what zucchini is capable of — no disguise necessary.

More veggie-packed pasta recipes

Lemon Zucchini Pasta with Fresh Basil

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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Dinner American
By Samantha Serves: 2-4
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 25 minutes Total Time: 40 minutes

This easy zucchini pasta recipe is a delicious way to use up all that summer produce. It's great as a meat-free main dish for vegetarians or as a zucchini pasta salad for your next cookout.

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 8 oz penne, farfalle, or other short pasta
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium zucchini (about 1 lb), sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/2 cup), plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil or mint (about 1/4 oz), torn or thinly sliced

Instructions

1

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta 1 minute less than package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

2

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet (preferably with high sides) over medium heat. Add the oil. Add half of the zucchini and fry until golden brown, 3-4 minutes per side. It can be tricky to flip each zucchini, but do the best that you can. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer the fried zucchini to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt. Repeat with remaining zucchini.

3

Turn off heat and add the garlic to the now-empty skillet, swirling the pan to ensure that the garlic doesn't burn. Once the garlic softens slightly and smells fragrant (30 seconds-1 minute), add the red pepper flakes, lemon juice and zest, and ½ cup of pasta water. Turn the heat back on and bring the sauce to a simmer, then gradually whisk in the Parmesan, adding a small handful at a time and whisking in between each addition, until melted.

4

Add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce and toss, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce evenly clings to the pasta. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry. Mix in the fried zucchini and basil. Taste and add more salt if needed.

5

To serve, top each portion with more Parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper.

Nutrition

  • 390 Calories

Notes

To make this as a zucchini pasta salad, follow the recipe as directed, then allow it to cool to room temperature. I think it tastes better at room temp than ice cold, so take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you want to serve it. To double the recipe and use up the whole 16oz box of pasta, I'd suggest doubling the amount of everything except the zucchini. Frying 8 zucchini will take you all day! Alternatively, you can roast all of that zucchini on 1 or 2 sheet pans at 425F until golden. When it's time to toss the pasta in the sauce, I'd suggest tossing it in the pasta pot rather than the skillet so that you have more room.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Grace
    August 30, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    5 stars
    This recipe looks amazing! Mouthwatering photos!

    • Reply
      Sam
      August 30, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Thanks Grace! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sidney
    August 31, 2022 at 9:56 am

    This looks amazing! I can’t wait to try with my abundant zucchini 🙂

  • Reply
    Doreen
    September 1, 2022 at 7:53 pm

    This recipe is full of flavor. So delish! I used my extra pasta pot to fry the zucchini which eliminated any grease spatters. I’m usually not a fan of frying but Samantha is spot on about the crispy outside, creamy inside. Hubby said a big thank you to Samantha for the recipe . He said “it was bursting with so many flavors”. As always the directions are easy to follow and photos accurately show the steps.

    • Reply
      Samantha
      September 2, 2022 at 6:54 am

      Why thank you 🙂 Smart to use a pot!

  • Reply
    Katelyn
    October 10, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    This sounds amazing – I cannot wait to try this recipe!

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