You'll never believe this Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini is actually good for you with under 350 calories and it's loaded with veggies, too. We can't get enough pesto in our house and also constantly make this Pesto Chicken and Pesto Skewers.
I have been using pesto on everything lately. I mix it into my hummus, drizzle it on salads and sandwiches, scramble it into my morning eggs, and have been using it in all kinds of dinners like this creamy pasta dish.
This pesto recipe is packed with flavor from the basil and garlic and is also much lighter than traditional pesto since it has much less oil. I used pine nuts, which are the most traditional, but any nut would work. Often I use almonds, pistachios, or walnuts since they are less expensive.
The other thing that makes this dish different from your traditional pesto-and-pasta recipe is that I use zucchini noodles in addition to the pasta. In doing so, I've easily added more nutrition into the dish and eliminated a lot of unnecessary carbs from the pasta. You all know I don't think carbs are the bad guy entirely. But, sometimes you just want to eat a fresh, healthy meal all the way around, and this dish definitely is just that. Plus, when you use high-fiber pasta, you get more fiber that keeps you feeling fuller, longer.
And, at least in my neck of the woods, zucchini are still in season and abundantly available at the farmers market. I can also find pre-made zucchini noodles in the produce department of the grocery store that I can add to the dish. I know I have also seen frozen zucchini noodles but I really haven't had any desire to try those and they just seem like they'd be mushy and I'm not sure there's any way to get around that. If you've had a different experience with them and like them, let me know! I'm always up for trying new things.
How do you make Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini?
This dish comes together quickly but is really made in two parts: the pesto, then the pasta and zucchini with the pesto mixed in.
Making pesto is easy-peasy. Get out your food processor and blend together the following: basil, water, Parmesan, pine nuts (or whatever nuts you are using), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Scrape it down the sides as you process if needed. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge if you have any left. (Or, double the recipe to ensure you'll have some left for tomorrow's meal!)
For the pasta and zucchini part of the recipe: Go ahead and cook the pasta first, according to package directions, except stop it from cooking about 2 minutes early so that when you cook it again with the sauce it doesn't get mushy. Be sure to reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooking water before draining entirely. I will just take out a measuring cup full because it's easier to dip that into the water than to measure out the tablespoons at that moment. You can measure out the water with the tablespoons later when you need it, from the measuring cup.
Next, heat the butter until it melts in a large saute pan. Add cooking spray and then add the minced onions, cooking them in the butter and cooking spray until they are nice and softened, about 3-5 minutes. To the onions, add the garlic and zucchini, cooking a few minutes more until the zucchini starts to become tender. Then, you can add back your cooked pasta, the pesto, cream cheese, and pasta water.
Stir it all together until it gets good and blended and gooey and so delicious-looking you can't wait any longer. Then, serve and enjoy!
How can I customize Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini?
There are lots of ways I adjust this recipe on any given night.
- If you want to skip the pasta all together, I suggest using all zucchini noodles or zucchini noodles mixed with another veggie noodle.
- You can use whatever pasta you like if you're not a fan of high-fiber pasta.
- Add in a can of drained chickpeas for some added fiber, protein, and a different texture to mix up the dish.
- Red pepper flakes sprinkled over the top of this dish can give it a lovely, subtle spice.
- Grate a little more Parmesan over the top if you like your dishes a little cheesier.
- Add chopped sun dried tomatoes to the mix when you add in the pesto or cream cheese or blend chopped sun dried tomatoes right into your pesto for a different blend of the green sauce.
- If you don't want the pasta to be as creamy, you could substitute Greek yogurt for the cream cheese, but it will also have a little bit of a tang to it. Don't worry — it goes well with the garlic, lemon, and pesto!
Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini
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- 1 cup basil leaves, packed
- 3 tbsp. water
- 2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/8 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 U clove garlic
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. black pepper
- 8 oz. high fiber pasta
- 1 U clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 U onion, minced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 4 U zucchinis, sliced into sticks
- 2 tbsp reduced fat cream cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Using a food processor, pulse together the first nine ingredients for the pesto.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook according to the package directions, taking it out 2 minutes early so it doesn’t overcook when you add it to the sauce. Reserve 2 tbsp of the cooking water.
In a large saute pan over medium heat add the butter and let it melt. Spray some additional cooking spray and add the onions. Cook for 3-5 minutes until they begin to soften up.
Add the garlic and zucchini. Cook until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked pasta, pesto, cream cheese, and pasta water to the pan. Stir together everything and serve.
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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