Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream

If you have an endless supply of zucchini right now, this is your recipe. A simple, garlic-boosted pasta, it uses two pounds of zucchini, and is endlessly adaptable.

Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream

There is an incredible amount of zucchini coming out of our garden right now, and I'm focused on using it. This means ignoring recipes that call for small quantities of zucchini, turning my attention to making things that can put a real dent in the supply. Enter this simple, garlic-boosted pasta. It uses two pounds of zucchini, and is endlessly adaptable.
Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream

Pasta Choices

I used long, slender bucatini pasta this time around, but enjoy this recipe with a wide range of pasta shapes. It's nice with whole wheat pasta, or even some of the alternative lentil noodles. It's particularly good with textured, short pastas because the sauce and garlicky zucchini chunks get caught up in every bite.
Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream

Favorite adaptations

Once you have your smashed zucchini sauce and pasta as a foundation, you can take this in a lot of different directions. We've been finishing it off with lots of halved cherry tomatoes plus garlic bread crumbs in place of the sliced almonds. The flavor pop of sweet from the tomatoes alongs with the crunchy crisp of the breadcrumbs is great. Alternately, you can boost the whole situation nutritionally by stirring in a few handfuls of thinly sliced kale that you've massaged with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice. You can also make more Asian-inspired, brothy version by adding more water to the zucchini, add a dollop of favorite curry paste, and use rice noodles. Top with crispy, grilled or oven roasted mushrooms and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Or, simply add a few dollops of pesto to the smashed zucchini sauce to up the summer basil factor.

Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream

Other ways to use up zucchini

I like this super quick, sautéed zucchini - similar in spirit to today's recipe, it is also extra garlicky, and you get those nice browned bits where the zucchini hits the pan. You see it pictured over noodles as well, but I often enjoy it over quinoa or farro. And, this one is an oldie (posted in 2010), but these quick pickled zucchini are always nice to have on hand. Need more ideas? Here’s where I’ve collected all my favorite zucchini recipes.
Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream

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Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream

4.13 from 79 votes

Use your favorite noodles here, long or short. I used bucatini here, but also love stubby shapes with grippy ridges.

  • 8 ounces dried pasta
  • 3-4 medium zucchini (2 lbs), washed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6-8 medium cloves garlic, grated on microplane
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese (fluffy, not packed)
  • 1 cup basil, thinly sliced
  • black pepper
  • toasted almond slices
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water well, and boil pasta per package instructions. Drain, reserving some pasta water, and set aside.
  2. In the meantime, slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove most of the seeds. Cut into 1/4-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, a minute or so. Stir in the chopped zucchini and 1 1/3 cups water, cover, and simmer until the zucchini absorbs most of the water and softens, roughly 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, and carefully, with a fork or (even better) a potato masher, smash the zucchini until creamy.
  3. Transfer the zucchini to a large serving bowl. Add most of the cheese and most of the basil, and lots of pepper. Stir in the pasta, and a splash of the pasta water if you want to thin it out at all. Taste, and add salt if needed. Finish by topping with lots of toasted almonds, and the remaining cheese and basil.

Serves 4.

Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
25 mins
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Recipe Rating


Such a simple concept but delicious! I didn't have almonds, skipped those. I imagine it would be good with pine nuts too! I added sautéed mushrooms & diced tomatoes. I used my Vitamix to blend the sauce and it was perfect and creamy. Garnished with parm and basil, olive oil and red pepper flakes. My partner said this was the best pasta dish he has had in a long time.

Amber L

    Thanks for the comment Amber! Have a great summer.

    Heidi Swanson

Just made this! I added sautéed mushrooms and diced tomatoes. I used my Vitamix to blend the sauce. So delicious! I added extra salt and red pepper flakes to garnish. Tip for people: Trader Joe’s sells a pretty full organic basil plant for like $3-4 and you can prune it and keep getting basil!

Amber Hagan

Hi Heidi - zucchini manages to be a staple in my kitchen so I looovve this post with so many recipes. One question, why do you remove the seeds? Look forward to trying this smash very soon!


    Hi Kaly - mostly to reduce the amount of water a bit. Enjoy!

    Heidi Swanson

Moving house and using up some of last summer's zucchini from the freezer - this will be perfect, though not as yummy as fresh I'm sure. Since it's hard to communicate the right amount of grated cheese by volume, can I suggest using the weight instead (or in addition, since not everyone cooks with a scale)? Helps when procuring ingredients, too, since it can be hard to guess how big a nub of cheese will get when grated!


Straight off the farmstand zucchini, basil, tomatoes and garlic made this so flavourful! I used an immersion blender instead of a fork to purée and used toasted walnuts instead of almonds. Wish I could post a picture, it was so pretty! Will make again.


    Thanks Nadine!!

    Heidi Swanson

I must have messed something up with this dish but not sure what. The zucchini tasted like garlic and not much else. I was unsure on how to measure the quantities of cheese and basil so that may have contributed as well. A rare 101 bust for me.


    Sorry to hear it Lia! On occasion I add roasted cherry tomatoes - so you have that basil, zucchini, and tomato trifecta that is so tasty. Maybe experimenting with less garlic would be the way to go for you...

    Heidi Swanson

Great recipe, super tasty, but I found it to be way too much cheese. I made 1/2 the recipe but only used 1/3 the cheese (0.5cup), and still found it to be too much. Probably should’ve used half of what I did. When you make this recipe you’ll want the flavor of the fresh, seasoned, roasted zucchini to be the highlight. Plus, it’s way healthier that way! Next time I’m going to again make 1/2 the recipe but probably use 1/6 the cheese. Otherwise great recipe and a nice change of pace. I added one green chile for some spice and it was a nice addition.


    yes, adjust absolutely! It's hard to communicate on the grated cheese front, but in this case I measure when extra fluffy and light. xx, -h

    Heidi Swanson

Uh, yum! Love this creative zucchini idea. I'm sure it's delicious as-is, but I made these alterations: - toast black pepper with garlic - briefly sautee zucchini w/ garlic before simmering - sub a dollop of pesto for basil (didn't have any fresh) - add a dab of cream to make it even richer - use pasta water to thin out sauce Super good with rotini pasta, and would probably be awesome with some roasted chicken too.

Ruby Dennis

    xo Ruby! So glad you enjoyed it - love your tweaks!

    Heidi Swanson

I am going to try this recipe. It looks delicious. Is that okay to use plain salt instead of grain sea salt

Preeti Gautam

    Hi Preeti - yes, that's fine.

    Heidi Swanson

My family loved this, but we did add lemon zest and juice. Acid always brightens. It was absolutely delicious!


Have you tried Italian oil cured zucchini? An amazing way to preserve the summer bounty . It’s lightly dehydrated then packed in olive oil. Amazing


Heidi, thank you for this recipe. Last evening, I scaled it back a bit for a supper for two, for my husband and myself., and we thought it was delicious,. This uses a cooking technique for zucchini that I never would have thought of, and I was amazed at how truly creamy the dish was. It went right on our household menu list.


A delicious dinner! I grated half of the zucchini, roasted the other half, and proceeded with the directions (sans additional water as the zucchini released enough of it's own). I finished off the dish with a bit of lemon juice, because I'm acid obsessed! With the addition of some roasted cherry tomatoes on top, this was the perfect summery bowl of pasta!!


    Sounds great Jess! -h

    Heidi Swanson

This was amazing..! I love zucchini but I only had 1 large zucchini in stock so I made adjustments based on that (used 2/3c water and 1/2 c homemade vegan Parmesan) adding 1 cup diced baby Bella’s...paired with bucatini & topped with toasted sunflower seeds and chopped tomatoes..and Came out creamy and cheesy flavorful..


    Love the sunflower seeds as a wild card!

    Heidi Swanson

The best parmesean substitute, I make myself. 2 parts by volume Hemp Hearts 2 parts finely shredded shiitake mushrooms ( I find in an asian vegan shop, but could make in a Vitamix) 1 part Nutritional Yeast. Excellent. Maybe sub salt for the Nutritional Yeast if you do not like that.


    Thanks Marie!

    Heidi Swanson

WOW. I made this last night, and it was INCREDIBLY delicious. There’s a new Vegan product on the market called Violife “Just lke Parmesan”. I used it in this recipie and it turned out brilliantly. Thank you, Heidi ; )


    So great Elizabeth! Glad you like it. And thanks for the heads up re: JLP! I know people are increasingly looking for Parmesan-like cheese that is vegan or made with vegetable based rennet. I'll give it a try when I see it.

    Heidi Swanson

Made this for dinner last night with a few adjustments. I left out the cheese and instead stirred in a very noochy cashew cream after smashing the zucchini to make it dairy free/vegan. And topped it with some browned zucchini pieces and crispy shitake mushrooms. So delicious! My daughter & I devoured it and will definitely be making this again. Thank you Heidi for always providing so much inspiration!

Jen @

    Love your adaptations! xo Jen :)!

    Heidi Swanson

Looks great! Do you think this sauce would freeze well? Or is there too much water content in the zucchini?


    Hmmm. Actually unsure about this one...I think you're right that it might get weird because of the water content....

    Heidi Swanson

I went camping this weekend and came home to find five big zucchini in the garden bed, so this recipe is perfect timing! Thank you!


Sounds LOVELY but gonna try roasting and mashing the zucchini!!

Kathy Martens

    Love this idea Kathy!

    Heidi Swanson

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