Lemony Pasta with Fried Zucchini and Basil

Overhead view of 3 small bowls of penne pasta with zucchini, parmesan, and basil.

Let’s be honest, zucchini tastes best in disguise.

Chocolate zucchini bread, zucchini fritters, deep fried zucchini flowers– all of the vegetable’s best iterations mask its natural flavor.

To be fair, most of these recipes were invented in late-August panic attacks about using up extra zucchini.

This recipe keeps zucchini as close to its natural form as possible while enhancing its natural taste. You’ll actually be aware of the fact that you’re eating zucchini, but I promise you won’t mind.

Yes, there’s some gentle frying involved, but most of the fat gets drained off on paper towels.

A small skillet with sliced, fried zucchini.

Plus, the pasta-to-vegetable ratio is about equal and it’s fried in olive oil- we’re practically following the Mediterranean diet!

With the addition of zesty lemons, salty parmesan, and a hint of spice, you won’t care what diet this adheres to. You’ll just want more.

And more you’ll get, because it’s late in the summer and not only are you trying to eat all your own produce, but your friends and coworkers are pawning their extras on you, too.

This zucchini pasta recipe is straightforward and easy to memorize, so you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Then, you’ll know exactly what to do on Monday when you find a pile of gourds on your desk.

Let’s make zucchini pasta

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 1 minute less than package directions (you’ll finish it in the sauce), drain and reserve one cup of pasta water.

While the pasta’s on, heat a high-sided skillet with more olive oil than you’re probably comfortable with, and add a bunch of sliced zucchini. Fry until golden brown. Remove the zucchini from the skillet, make a quick sauce with more garlic than you’re probably comfortable with, lemon juice, and pasta water. Add pasta back to the sauce, toss toss toss, taste, toss, parmesan, toss, eat.

Overhead shot of a white bowl of penne pasta with zucchini, basil and parmesan.

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, whole wheat pasta and the bright, lemony garlic sauce. A flurry of basil leaves freshens everything up.

This dinner, full of seasonal produce and fresh herbs, reminds your palate that it’s still summer and shows what zucchini can be capable of- no disguise necessary.

5 from 1 vote
Overhead shot of a white bowl of penne pasta with zucchini, basil and parmesan.
Lemony Pasta with Fried Zucchini and Basil
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
30 mins
A quick, easy, and delicious weeknight recipe to use up all that summer produce!
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: healthy weeknight pasta, zucchini recipe
Servings: 4
Calories: 390 kcal
What you need
For the pasta
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 lb penne farfalle, or other short pasta
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 small zucchini sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch half moons
  • Flaky sea salt such as Maldon
  • 6 cloves garlic crushed and peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to taste
  • juice of 1 lemon about 1/4 cup, and zest
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil or mint torn
For serving
  • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
What you do
Cook pasta
  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.
Fry Zucchini
  1. Meanwhile, heat ⅓ cup olive oil in large sauté pan (preferably with high sides) over high heat. Add half of the zucchini and fry until golden brown, 5-7 minutes, tossing halfway through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and season generously with flaky salt. Repeat with remaining zucchini.

Make it Lemony
  1. Turn heat to low (or even turn it off to cool it down completely before adding garlic). Add garlic to the now-empty skillet and cook on low heat until soft and fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium, add red pepper flakes, lemon juice and zest, Parmesan cheese and ½ cup of pasta water. Simmer and whisk the mixture until emulsified and slightly reduced, 3-5 minutes.

Toss and Taste
  1. Toss pasta in the pan with the lemony sauce until well-combined, about 1-2 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry. Mix in the fried zucchini and basil. Top each portion with parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper if desired.

If you don’t feel like frying the zucchini in batches (who has time for that anyway??), you can just dump all the zucchini in at once and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until they break down and get all jammy and delicious. They won’t have that pretty golden-brown edge, but they will still taste great.

The lemony pasta would be delicious with an acidic red wine like Valpolicella, or a tannic Chianti. For whites, I’d go for a refreshing, summery Albariño or a good Pinot Grigio.

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  • Reply
    August 30, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    5 stars
    This recipe looks amazing! Mouthwatering photos!

    • Reply
      August 30, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Thanks Grace! 🙂

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