Pasta With Creamy Zucchini Pesto

June 24, 2020
Photo by Anna Billingskog
Author Notes

This simple, sublime pasta makes good use of summer’s bountiful zucchini. The zucchini-packed pesto is inspired by the filling for Evan Funke's cestini (a stuffed fresh pasta in the ravioli family) from the cookbook American Sfoglino. Funke makes it by searing thick rounds of zucchini in a skillet until well-browned, then pureeing them in a food processor along with ricotta and basil.

To boost the caramelization and concentrate the flavor even more, I like to shred the zucchini first, a technique I learned from Jennie Cook’s Zucchini Butter, a Genius recipe on this site. From there, the pesto comes together easily: Pulse pistachios and basil together with olive oil and lemon zest, add the caramelized zucchini, whir a small amount of ricotta to make the sauce extra smooth and luxurious, then finish with a squeeze of sunny lemon. Toss with your favorite pasta and lots of grated cheese, and dinner is served. It’s slightly more work than a traditional pesto genovese, but the layers of bright, nuanced flavors are well worth it.

A note about the ricotta: I love the rich creaminess that it brings to the pesto, but for a lighter, more vegetable-forward version, feel free to leave it out. The sauce is delicious either way.

The rest of the recipe is equally flexible. Use other soft herbs and greens (such as parsley, arugula, and mint) in combination with, or in place of, the basil. Swap out almonds or pine nuts for the pistachios. Experiment with different types of pasta—I usually gravitate towards long noodles, but virtually any shape will stand in nicely. —EmilyC

  • Serves 4
  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini and/or summer squash (about 3 medium)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt plus freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted roasted pistachios (shelled)
  • 2 cups to 2 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated zest + 1 tablespoon juice (or to taste) from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup whole-milk ricotta (see author note above)
  • 1 pound linguine (or spaghetti, fettuccine, tagliatelle, or pappardelle)
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan (or a mix of half Parmesan/half Pecorino), plus more for serving
In This Recipe
  1. For the creamy zucchini pesto: Trim the ends of the zucchini but don’t peel them, then coarsely grate. (Tip: use the shredding attachment on a food processor for easy work). Gather the shredded zucchini in a clean towel, and squeeze a few times to remove water (this will aid caramelization).
  2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter plus 1 T extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the shredded zucchini, garlic, and a few big pinches of salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, scraping up any caramelized bits from bottom (lower heat if the zucchini is starting to burn). It should be lightly caramelized in spots, and very soft and almost jam-like.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, add pistachios, basil, lemon zest, and 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Pulse several times until the pistachios and basil are coarsely ground. Add the cooked zucchini (no need to cool it first). Pulse a few more times, then add the ricotta plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season with salt and black pepper, and add more lemon juice, to taste. Use immediately, or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to a day.
  4. For the pasta and finishing the dish: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and pasta; cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  5. Add the creamy zucchini pesto to the linguine, along with the parmesan and 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water. Toss to coat the noodles evenly; it’ll seem like a lot of sauce, but it’ll nicely meld with the pasta after a few good tosses. Add more cooking water, as needed, to thin the sauce (note: I usually add close to the full cup). Divide among plates, and top with more parmesan. Serve warm.

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  • EmilyC
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Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.