This zucchini pesto pasta makes an easy weeknight dinner that’s on the table in less than 30 minutes! It's made with fresh zucchini, ground turkey, pesto, and chickpea pasta and is bursting with bright flavor!
Recipe Price: $11.92 | Per Serving: $2.98 | Makes: 4 servings
Why You Will Love This Zucchini Pesto Pasta Recipe
- Quick and easy! If you're looking for a weeknight dinner you can prepare in less than 30 minutes, this is it!
- Family-friendly dinner. This pesto zucchini pasta is sure to be a crowd pleaser with both kids and adults! You can swap out the vegetables or use a softer spinach-based pesto for pickier eaters!
- Great flavor. Pesto adds a delicious punch of flavor along with fresh zucchini, ground turkey, and pasta. The Parmesan cheese brings a touch of richness to the sauce, while the lemon juice brightens the flavors!
What is Zucchini Pesto Pasta?
This pasta dish combines relatively mild zucchini with flavor-packed basil for a perfectly balanced plate of goodness!
Lean ground turkey and chickpea pasta add protein, making it a protein-rich dish that's filling enough for an entire meal. Pesto provides garlic and herby flavors while the fresh lemon juice adds a delightful brightness.
You only need a handful of ingredients for zucchini pasta with pesto! The main ingredients are, of course, zucchini, pesto, and pasta.
- Chickpea fusilli: I am using chickpea fusilli for this recipe, but red lentil, and regular whole wheat pasta both work beautifully here. Feel free to use any pasta shape you prefer, but I think fusilli is the best short pasta shape!
- Pine nuts: This is an expensive ingredient that provides buttery richness and textural contrast. Pesto traditionally is made using pine nuts, but we're just using a few Tablespoons here since they're typically pretty pricey. (See below for substitutions!)
- Olive oil: Brings a bit of its naturally fruity flavor and fatty richness to this otherwise pretty light dish of pesto pasta with zucchini.
- Pesto: Use your favorite homemade pesto or store-bought pasta as you prefer.
- Zucchini: An affordable, mild-tasting vegetable that pairs beautifully with pesto. I strongly recommend using small-medium sized zucchini here. (The large ones do not work as well - too watery.)
- Ground turkey: It's a good source of lean protein, and is a classic pesto pairing.
- Aromatics: Sautéed shallots and fresh garlic add more dimension and depth of flavor to the zucchini and pesto sauce.
- Lemon: The zest adds a more intense lemon flavor, while squeezing fresh lemon juice right at the end brings a brightness to the final dish.
- Parmesan: For the best flavor and consistency buy a block of parmesan cheese and grate it fresh! I have not tried this with powdery Parmesan (green jar), but it will work with other pre-shredded varieties.
Be sure to check the recipe card for the complete list of ingredients and quantities of each.
Dietary Modifications and Substitutions
- Paleo: Nope, this dish contains dairy and legumes, and is not Paleo.
- Vegetarian: As written, this zucchini pesto pasta isn't vegetarian but you can easily use chickpeas or white beans instead of ground turkey. I would also add hemp seeds for more protein.
- Budget-friendly pasta option. Many gluten-free and protein pasta options tend to be a bit more expensive but you can easily make this recipe using whole wheat pasta if you prefer.
- Change up the pesto. There's a variety of different types of pesto you can make or buy that would work great for this easy pasta recipe. A basic basil pesto is very rich in flavor, or you can choose a lightened up pesto made from spinach (which is especially good for kiddos). This bitter greens pesto is another delicious option!
- Change up the nuts. Pine nuts can be a bit pricy so feel free to leave them out or swap them out for walnuts or sunflower seeds.
- Nut-free. Opt for a nut-free pesto and use sunflower seeds instead of the pine nuts.
How to Make Zucchini Pesto Pasta
This recipe goes a step beyond the basics. I'm using a couple of cooking tips to help elevate your weeknight zucchini pesto pasta!
- Cook the chickpea pasta in boiling salted water for about five minutes or according to the package directions of the pasta you are using. Drain the pasta when it's al dente and reserve about half a cup of the pasta water for later.
PRO TIP: You can cook your pasta as your last step if you'd like it to be hot at serving time.
- Prep your ingredients. Thinly slice the shallot into half moons. Peel and mince the garlic. Zest the lemon, then cut in half and pop out any seeds so you can juice it over the pasta later. Set these aside.
- Toast the pine nuts in a skillet for about 60-90 seconds.
PRO TIP: Watch your pine nuts very closely and DO NOT WALK AWAY. Pine nuts can easily burn if left unattended.
- Cook the ground turkey in olive oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Cook until it's browned, breaking it up into pieces with a wooden utensil as it cooks. Add about one tablespoon of pesto and cook for another 30 seconds, then remove the turkey from the pan and set it aside.
- Cook the shallots in a bit more olive oil over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt and sauté for 1-2 minutes, or until they’re softened and developing flavor. Add the garlic and sauté another 30 seconds or until it's fragrant.
- Add the zucchini to the skillet. Stir it right away to mix it with the aromatic flavors of the shallots and garlic. You want the zucchini in contact with the bottom of the skillet so it will begin to cook and soften. Add a pinch of salt and stir frequently while it cooks. Add the lemon zest, the remaining pesto, and about two tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. Stir to combine and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
- Add some freshly grated parmesan cheese and stir it into the sauce so it melts, making it glossy and delicious!
- Combine the cooked pasta, ground turkey, and zucchini in the skillet or in a large bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir well and give it a taste. Adjust the flavor to your taste with any additional salt, pepper, pesto, or olive oil you prefer.
Serve the pasta topped with the toasted pine nuts and more parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
How to Store
You will get about four servings from this pesto zucchini pasta recipe, but the leftovers store and reheat perfectly.
Store leftovers in the fridge for up to five days. Reheat in a skillet with a bit of water added or in the microwave. If it seems a bit dry you can add a bit more olive oil or pesto to give it some additional moisture.
Zucchini pesto pasta is great in the summer when basil and zucchini are at the height of their season.
However, these days you can buy zucchini and pesto year-round, which means you can enjoy it any time of year.
This recipe is a complete meal as is, with 30 grams of protein, healthy fats from olive oil, and a full serving of vegetables. But if you'd like to pair it with something else, here are some suggestions:
- This roasted vegetable salad is a favorite and brings additional veggies to your meal!
- Caprese garlic bread is a show-stopping side dish that's packed with flavor!
- I love this summer vegetable salad if you're looking for a light and citrusy addition to your meal!
Room for Dessert?
- Enjoy a tasty dessert after a satisfying summer dinner of pesto pasta with zucchini. We love this apple galette, this chocolate plantain cake, and these chocolate almond butter scotcheroos.
- Don't overcook the pasta. Check the package directions and cook until al dente.
- Add a pinch of salt. You want to add a pinch each time you add an ingredient to the skillet. This helps ensure even seasoning and builds layers of flavor
- If using homemade spinach or arugula pesto, you may want to use 6-8 Tablespoons of pesto to the dish for more flavor.
Video: Watch this recipe!
Fresh in-season ingredients and toasting the nuts! This classic Italian sauce contains fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. The combination of these ingredients creates a harmonious and flavorful sauce. If you are buying store-bought pesto, make sure to choose a quality brand you know and enjoy. If you are making it homemade, it's important to use fresh ingredients, a high-quality olive oil, and toast the nuts before making it!
They are both great options and I wouldn't say one is healthier than the other. Both are usually made with extra virgin olive oil, which has been shown in numerous studies to confer health benefits. Pesto will provide more fat from the nuts, cheese, & oil, and a bit more magnesium from the basil or other greens, while marinara sauce will contain more lycopene and vitamin C from the tomatoes.
This sauce originated in Liguria, specifically Genoa. How it is served may vary depending on the region, but pesto pasta is often served in small portions as part of a 3-course Italian lunch. Traditionally, pesto was made using a pestle and mortar rather than a blender or food processor. It is frequently served with short pasta and used in a variety of other dishes.
More Italian-Inspired Recipes
Zucchini Pesto Pasta
- 8 ounces uncooked chickpea fusilli or any pasta
- 2 Tablespoons pine nuts
- 2-3 teaspoons olive oil divided, as needed
- 8 ounces ground turkey
- ½ teaspoon fine salt more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper more to taste
- 4 Tablespoons basil pesto divided
- 1 medium shallot
- 2 medium zucchini about 1.5 pounds
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 whole lemon
- 2 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan more for serving
- Fill a large pot with water and several pinches of salt. Bring this to a boil and cook your chickpea fusilli for about 5 minutes. (Alternatively, follow the package instructions on whatever pasta you’re using.) Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside. Optional: you can mix the pasta with about 1 Tablespoon of the pesto if you’d like. Tip: cook your pasta as your last step if you’d like it to still be quite hot when you serve it.
- Meanwhile, prepare your ingredients. Thinly slice the shallot into half moons. Peel and mince the garlic. Zest the lemon, then cut in half and pop out any seeds so you can juice it over the pasta later. Set these aside.
- In a large skillet with tall sides, lightly toast the 2 Tablespoons of pine nuts, which should take about 60-90 seconds. DO NOT WALK AWAY. Pine nuts can easily burn if left unattended. Remove the pine nuts and set aside.
- In the same skillet, over medium-high heat, add about 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil, then add the ground turkey. Sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Break up the turkey with a wooden utensil and stir to cook until browned and fully cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add about 1 Tablespoon of pesto and cook for another 30 seconds, then remove turkey from the pan and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium and add another 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and sauté for 1-2 minutes, or until they’re softened and developing flavor. Add the garlic and sauté another 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add the zucchini to the skillet and stir immediately to combine with the aromatics and to put the zucchini in contact with the bottom of the skillet. Add a pinch of salt, and stir frequently while cooking this for about 5 minutes or until the zucchini has softened. Then, add the lemon zest, the remaining 2-3 Tablespoons of pesto, and about 2 Tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. Stir this together and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
- Stir in 1-2 Tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese. This should melt into the sauce to make it glossy and delicious!
- Combine the cooked pasta, ground turkey, and zucchini in the skillet or in a large bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir well, taste and add any additional salt, pepper, pesto, or olive oil as desired. Top with the pine nuts and parmesan cheese, reserving a bit of each to add to each serving of pasta. Enjoy!
- Add a pinch of salt each time you add an ingredient to the skillet. This helps ensure even seasoning and builds layers of flavor.
- Feel free to make your own homemade pesto for this recipe! If using homemade spinach or arugula pesto, I recommend using 6-8 Tablespoons of pesto in this recipe.
- Use walnuts or sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts, or just leave them out altogether.
- In-season zucchini will also be cheaper.
- Instead of parmesan, feel free to use grana padano or any similar cheese - whatever is cheapest!
- While I love the fiber and protein available in chickpea and red lentil pasta, whole wheat pasta is certainly cheaper.
- You can use regular onions or red onions in place of the shallot if desired.
- And finally, homemade pesto is often cheaper than store bought!