“Go green” with our veggie-fied version of cacio e pepe. Zucchini Pasta makes for a quick and easy vegetarian dinner. Adding zoodles (zucchini noodles) to creamy parmesan pasta yields decadent flavor, fast – with a healthy veggie twist.
Zucchini noodles aren’t just a replacement for the real thing. Lots of recipes call for zucchini and pasta to live together in perfect harmony, and this spin on cacio e pepe is no exception. The fun spiral shape of zoodles helps them blend right in for a seamless zucchini pasta experience.
To be clear, this isn’t zucchini as pasta, it’s zucchini in pasta. No disrespect to the keto cohort, but the starchy pasta water is what makes the magic happen, so we gotta have it!
But how you get to the magic is just as important – you can’t just go dumping the liquid gold in willy nilly. The real trick to nailing the delicate sauce is to add the pasta water and parmesan in small amounts and keep blending until the consistency is creamy – but thin – and just lightly coats the pasta and zucchini.
The Right Sauce for Zucchini Pasta
If you have a bounty of fresh squash right now (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t in August??), you might be tempted to toss sauteed zucchini into your standard pasta recipe and call it good.
While red sauce (ie. sunday sauce, gravy, marinara, ragu, etc.) is always great on pasta, not every ingredient in every pasta dish can withstand something so robust. If you want to taste something other than tomato sauce, you need to be strategic – especially with delicate vegetables like zucchini.
Zucchini and parmesan cheese are a classic combination in plenty of zucchini recipes, and work perfectly for pasta too. The nutty parmesan highlights the sweet, subtle flavor of zucchini without overpowering.
How to Make Pasta with Zucchini
Cacio e pepe style Zucchini Pasta yields fast, decadent flavor with a healthy veggie twist. Lightly pan-sear fresh zucchini noodles, then toss them with bucatini or spaghetti in a light parmesan sauce. The key to nailing the sauce is in the prep work – finely shred the parmesan cheese using a microplane, then toss sauce the sauce off the heat. Rely on the heat from the warm pasta and pasta water to help emulsify the sauce.
- Cook the pasta. Cook according to package directions to one minute below al dente (the pasta will finish cooking in the skillet). Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain and set aside.
- Saute the zucchini. Saute zucchini noodles over medium high heat for 1-2 minutes – until the noodles are just barely tender. You want them to retain a bite!
- Melt the butter. Push the zucchini to one side of the skillet, and add butter to the other side. Add freshly ground pepper and toast the pepper in the butter for about 1 minute – until it’s very fragrant.
- Start the sauce. Add half a cup of reserved pasta water to the skillet and toss with the melted butter and zucchini noodles.
- Add in the pasta. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss with the noodles and pan sauce.
- Finish in a bowl. Transfer contents of skillet to large serving bowl. Add the parmesan cheese in batches, tossing thoroughly until the cheese melts into the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add more pasta water. If the sauce too thin, add more cheese. Just a little (about a tablespoon) at a time for both!
- Taste for seasoning and adjust additional salt and pepper as needed. Serve warm, right away.
- Bucatini is the classic choice for cacio e pepe, but feel free to use use your favorite long, thin noodle – including spaghetti or linguine noodles.
- Use a microplane to finely grate the parmesan.
- For best texture, transfer the noodles to a bowl before adding the parmesan to make the sauce. The pot itself will be too hot and can cause the cheese to congeal. The residual heat from the cooked zucchini and pasta noodles is just the right temperature to melt the cheese into a creamy sauce.
How Do I Make Zucchini Noodles (Zoodles)?
Zucchini noodles (zoodles) can be made using a spiralizer or handheld julienne peeler. When using the spiralizer, we use the a medium (5mm) blade to create zoodles that are roughly the same thickness as the spaghetti noodles. You can also cut zucchini noodles by hand.
Make It Your Way
- Chicken: simple grilled chicken is a classic choice, and works terrific served on the side or tossed into the pasta.
- Shrimp: prepare in your air fryer for hands-free cooking while you focus on your pasta.
- Burst Tomatoes: use a medley of fresh cherry tomatoes to brighten up this recipe. Once you transfer the pasta, zucchini, and pan sauce to a serving bowl, reheat your skillet over medium-high heat. Add up to 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add cherry tomatoes and toss to coat in the oil. Cook tomatoes, stirring occasionally, until they wilt and start to burst, about 5-6 minutes.
Did you make this zucchini pasta recipe? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- ½ lb bucatini, or spaghetti
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 3 medium zucchini, spiralized
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 2 oz finely shredded parmesan cheese, about 2 cups
- Bring four quarts of water to a boil in an 8-quart pot. Add the salt and pasta. Cook pasta to 1 minute below al dente (see package instructions). Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain.
- Heat a 12″ skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the zucchini and toss to coat in the fat. Saute for 1-2 minutes, until just barely bite tender.
- Push the zucchini to one side of the skillet. Add the butter and heat until it melts. Add the pepper and toast in the butter, stirring continuously, for 1 minute.
- Add ½ c reserved pasta water to the skillet. Simmer for one minute.
- Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss with the zucchini noodles and pan sauce. Remove from heat.
- Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl, then add the parmesan cheese in batches, folding the cheese into the pasta until a creamy sauce forms. If the sauce is too thick, add additional pasta water, a small splash at a time, until the consistency is creamy, but thin, and lightly coats the pasta and zucchini. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper if needed.