This light & bright Lemon Zucchini Pasta is a celebration of summer zucchini! It’s a low-fuss recipe that comes together in 25 minutes or less – the perfect dish to make whenever your summer garden is bursting with zucchini!
The magic of this recipe comes from beautiful summer zucchini at the peak of its season. Thinly slicing it into long, quick-cooking strands preserves both its flavor & texture. You simply pop the sliced zucchini in a colander, then drain al dente pasta over it to quickly cook it with the hot pasta water as it passes through. The result is perfectly tender-crisp zucchini “noodles” that practically beg to be tossed into pasta!
From there, bring it all together with in a light & bright aglio olio-inspired sauce made by perfuming extra virgin olive oil with garlic, red pepper flake, & fresh lemon juice. It all comes together in about 25 minutes with very minimal cooking involved – the perfect low-effort summer dinner!
This zucchini pasta has seriously bold flavor & makes for a great light dinner all on its own, but you can pair it with grilled protein or meatballs if you’d like to bulk it up a bit. Be sure to check out the blog post, above, for some suggestions to get you started! ♡ Happy cooking!
- 8 ounces spaghetti or long pasta of choice
- 3 medium zucchini (approx. 20–24 ounces)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- up to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup packed basil leaves, sliced fine
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan
- 2 lemons, juiced (approx. ¼–⅓ cup)
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: additional grated cheese, chopped parsley or basil, crushed red pepper, etc.
for the crispy garlic breadcrumbs:
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- Prep: Once you begin cooking, this zucchini pasta recipe comes together pretty quickly with a couple of very time-critical steps. Read the recipe in full to get a sense of its flow, then prep by getting the chopping, measuring & other prep odds & ends out of the way so cooking is a smooth process: bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta, chop the garlic & basil, grate the parmesan, juice the lemons, & prepare the zucchini. Trim the ends off each zucchini, then use a mandoline slicer to very carefully julienne lengthwise, creating long, thin zucchini noodles about ⅛-inch thick. Transfer the zucchini to a large colander. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt, tossing to combine, then place the colander in the sink.
- Boil the pasta: Once boiling, generously season the water with salt. Add the spaghetti (or long pasta of choice) & cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, to al dente (al dente cooking time is typically noted on package directions). Once the pasta reaches al dente, carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot, reserving about 1 cup of starchy pasta water, & set aside. Drain the pasta into the same colander as the zucchini such that the hot pasta water drains through the zucchini. Set aside – do not rinse the pasta/zucchini mixture! (Learn more ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!)
- Prepare the crispy garlic breadcrumbs: Meanwhile, the pasta boils, prepare the breadcrumbs. Add the olive oil to a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot & shimmering, stir in the breadcrumbs & garlic powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until the breadcrumbs are fragrant, toasty, & beautifully golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a bowl & set aside. Carefully wipe the skillet with paper towel, removing any breadcrumb residue. Return to the stove.
- Finish the zucchini pasta: No more than 1 minute before you drain the pasta, add the olive oil to the same skillet used to prepare the breadcrumbs. Heat over medium-low. Once the oil is hot & shimmering, stir in the garlic & crushed red pepper flake. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden & fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the zucchini & cooked pasta to the skillet, along with the basil, parmesan, & lemon juice. Toss to combine well – the lemon olive oil sauce should evenly coat the pasta. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce needs to loosen up a little; add in an extra handful of parmesan if it needs to tighten up more. Cook 1-2 minutes longer, allowing the pasta to meld with the olive oil sauce. Remove from the heat.
- Serve: Portion the zucchini pasta into individual bowls, topping with with the crispy garlic breadcrumbs & additional grated parmesan or chopped fresh herbs as desired. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Jess’ Notes & Tips:
- Zucchini: Zucchini is the star of the show here! For best results, use small-to-medium summer zucchini, which is going to be more tender, more flavorful, & better textured than large zucchini or off-season zucchini.
- Mandoline tips & alternatives: Slicing with a mandoline can be intimidating! Be sure to use the guard that came with the mandoline to keep your fingers away from the sharp blade. If you do not have a mandoline slicer, feel free to use a peeler to slice the zucchini lengthwise into fine ribbons, then run a knife over the ribbons to create “noodles”. You can also run the zucchini along the side of a box grater with large holes – doing so creates shorter pieces of shredded zucchini (vs “noodles”), but it’s just as delicious in zucchini pasta.
- Recipe variations: This lemon zucchini pasta recipe is naturally meatless. To ensure it’s vegetarian, be sure to use your favorite rennet-free parmesan. To take it a step further & make it vegan, opt for your favorite non-dairy parmesan.
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover lemon zucchini pasta will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for 2-3 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave, adding an extra splash of water or cooking stock to loosen up the brown butter sauce as needed, until warmed through.