This 5-Ingredient Pasta Is My Favorite Way To Use up Extra Zucchini|Recipes Spots

  • on August 14, 2023
This 5-Ingredient Pasta Is My Favorite Way To Use up Extra Zucchini


5-ingredient lemony zucchini pasta in a bowl garnished with basil
Simply Recipes / Grace Elkus

During the dreary winter months, I actually enjoy going grocery shopping—it gets me out of the house and gives me recipe inspiration. But in the summertime, when I prefer to be outside for as many hours as possible, that trip to the store sounds significantly less appealing. 

Instead, I do everything in my power to make meals out of what I’ve got. I prioritize any fresh produce I grabbed at the farmers market that week—or what I’ve been lucky enough to receive from friends and family members with gardens—and then turn to my pantry to transform it into dinner.

In August, this practice often leads me down one of two paths: 5-minute tomato sandwiches or one-pot zucchini pasta. Both are magical, in a way: the former uses Boursin to add garlicky, herby flavor, and the latter turns a mountain of grated zucchini into a jammy one-ingredient sauce.

This summer, I couldn’t resist a high-protein twist, complete with a whipped cottage cheese that makes the whole thing extra-creamy. 

ingredients for 5-ingredient zucchini pasta on a wooden surface
Simply Recipes / Grace Elkus

The recipe begins in the same brilliant way as the one-pot zucchini I linked above: grate two pounds of zucchini, cook it down until it becomes wonderfully thick and spreadable, then toss it with a pound of pasta. But this time, I’m stirring in a creamy mixture of whipped cottage cheese, lemon zest and juice, and heaps of fresh basil, resulting in a verdant five-ingredient pasta that you’ll want to make on repeat. 

Like any good five-ingredient recipe, this one is ripe for adaptation. Jury still out on cottage cheese? Swap in ricotta. Basil plant looking droopy? Supplement with dill, mint, or chives. Even the zucchini can be replaced with yellow squash. 

grated zucchini cooked down in a pot for making lemony zucchini pasta
Simply Recipes / Grace Elkus

How To Make My Lemony Zucchini Pasta with Cottage Cheese

I’m counting oil, salt, and pepper as freebie ingredients. For four to six servings, you’ll need:

  • 1 pound dry, short pasta, such as cavatappi, gemelli, or fusilli 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed 
  • 2 pounds zucchini or yellow squash (3 large or 4 medium)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste 
  • 8 ounces whole-milk cottage cheese (I like Good Culture.)
  • 1 cup loosely-packed fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced 

Fill a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven with heavily salted water and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Scoop out 1 cup of pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta and drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking.

While the pasta cooks, trim the zucchini and grate them through the large holes of a box grater.

Heat the olive oil in the now-empty pot over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini releases liquid, the liquid bubbles and cooks off, and the zucchini becomes jammy but not browned, 12 to 15 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the zucchini begins to stick to the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat off.

Meanwhile, place the cottage cheese, basil, most of the lemon zest and juice (you’ll use the rest later), the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl halfway through, until smooth, about 1 minute.

Set the pot of zucchini to low heat. Add the pasta and stir to distribute the zucchini. Add the cottage cheese mixture and 1/2 cup of the pasta water and stir, adding more as needed, until a creamy sauce coats the noodles. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as desired. 

Divide into bowls and top with more basil, the reserved lemon zest, and a drizzle of olive oil. 

5-ingredient zucchini pasta in a pot with a wooden spoon
Simply Recipes / Grace Elkus

A Few Upgrades

If you’re willing to make a six or seven-ingredient pasta, here are my favorite additions: 

  • Add a few dashes of red pepper flakes to the hot olive oil. Cook for 30 seconds before adding the zucchini. (Alternatively, stir them into the finished pasta to taste). 
  • Grate a few garlic cloves and cook them with the zucchini.  
  • Top each bowl with buttery toasted breadcrumbs. 
  • Finish with grated Parmesan. But you were gonna do that anyways, right?
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