This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
A creamy zucchini pasta recipe that doubles-down on fresh lemon flavor. The simple sauce includes a whole juicy lemon (plus zest), heavy cream, fresh basil and plenty of Parmesan cheese. Follow my steps to learn how to cook the luscious cream sauce in one pan, with caramelized shallots and perfectly cooked zucchini that tastes sweet and garlicky.
After testing different methods for weeks, I finally nailed what I think is the best zucchini pasta recipe, a summery pasta dish full of fresh basil, green zucchini squash and lots of lemon.
Pro Tip: Cutting the zucchini into thick matchsticks and caramelizing them in extra virgin olive oil enhances the creamy texture of cooked zucchini, while intensifying its natural sweetness.
Why you’ll love it:
What you need for the recipe
- Zucchini: You’ll need 2 medium zucchini for this recipe, or about 3/4 pound. Choose zucchini that are smaller than 2-inches in diameter — larger sized squash usually contain more interior seeds and can taste bitter.
- Pasta: You can cook whatever pasta you like or have on hand. I used spaghetti, but any long pasta shape such as linguine, bucatini, fettuccine or one of the best everyday short pasta shapes like farfalle, rigatoni are all great choices.
- Lemon: For a double hit of lemon, this recipe uses the zest of one whole lemon, along with its juice — the lemon is cut in half and browned in the pan along with the zucchini, which concentrates its flavor and seasons the zucchini as it cooks.
- Shallot: Shallots have a distinctive flavor that adds something special to the sauce. They taste especially delicious slightly caramelized. If you don’t have a shallot, use 1/2 cup sliced red or yellow onion instead.
- Cream: Heavy cream enriches the sauce beautifully. If you want a dairy-free option, substitute 1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth diluted with 2 tablespoons cornstarch.
- Cheese: Like a best friend, grated Parmesan adds a savory finishing touch, and allows all the ingredients to shine. Use freshly grated cheese if possible.
- Herbs: Fresh basil brings out the summery Mediterranean essence of zucchini. Swap it for another soft fresh herb, such as Italian parsley or chives.
Cooking process for zucchini pasta, step by step:
Double-Lemon Zucchini Pasta with Cream Sauce
- ¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
- Grated zest of one lemon
- 1 lemon, sliced in half
- 2 medium (390 g) zucchini, sliced into 2-inch sticks, ½-inch thick
- 8 ounces (225 g) spaghetti or linguine, or other any dried pasta shape you enjoy
- 1 cup (235 ml) heavy cream
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously (I use about 1 tablespoon kosher salt per quart of water).
- Put the oil into a large (preferably 12-inch) skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and arrange the lemon halves cut-side down in the pan. Cook the shallots until they're soft and beginning to brown on the edges, 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the zucchini to the pan and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Stir the zucchini into one layer. Cook 5 minutes without disturbing, or until the zucchini is nicely browned on one side.
- Pour the cream into the pan and stir in the garlic. Bring the cream to a boil and cook 5 minutes, until it looks reduced and thickened.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain.
- Remove the skillet from the heat. Using tongs, squeeze the juice from the cooked lemons into the sauce, then discard them. Add the lemon zest, grated cheese, and drained pasta to the pan. Combine the pasta with tongs or two wooden spoons until it melds with the sauce.
- Sprinkle the basil over the pasta and serve, with additional grated cheese on the side.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- To make the sauce without cream, replace it with 1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth diluted with 2 tablespoons cornstarch.
- Choose zucchini that are smaller than 2-inches in diameter — larger sized squash usually contain more interior seeds and can taste bitter.