Healthy Zucchini Basil Pesto
A simple recipe transforms excess zucchini into a healthy and delicious zucchini basil pesto. Mix with pasta, add to chicken or fish, or use anywhere you love regular pesto!
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Without a doubt, zucchini is among the most prolific late summer vegetables.
I don’t keep a vegetable garden – my thumb is pitch black – but I see the crazy piles of it at farmers markets and grocery stores. And I understand from people who do manage to grow actual plants in the actual ground that you can hardly keep up with the zucchini at this time of year. They sort of just keep coming.
Which leaves you with a lot of zucchini!
It’s pretty common to bake zucchini into breads, muffins, and cakes, because it adds a lot of moisture without an overpowering flavor. But sometimes you just don’t need another quick bread.
Enter: zucchini pesto.
Cross my heart, this tastes just like “regular” basil pesto, but you’ll do a happy dance knowing that you and yours are gobbling up healthy veggies in every bite. This is 100% approved by everyone from choosy toddlers and pre-schoolers to teenagers and adults who otherwise “don’t do” zucchini.
Zucchini pesto ingredients
- Grated zucchini: about 2 cups, which you should easily get from 1 large or 2 small zucchini.
- Basil: for the best traditional pesto flavor, you still want to include basil, but a relatively small amount — 1 cup or so — will do the trick. This is my go-to pesto recipe because I hate using all my basil at once.
- Spinach: this adds nutrition and color. It literally offsets the paleness of the zucchini, so your pesto comes out vibrant green despite the light touch of basil.
- Pine nuts: toasted for extra flavor.
- Parmesan: about 1/2 cup of it grated.
- Kosher salt, black pepper, olive oil.
How to make it
Making zucchini pesto is an easy two-step process. It does require a food processor, and the hardest part is probably hauling it up to the counter.
- Grate and press the zucchini. Use the food processor’s shredding disc to quickly and easily grate the zucchini, then scoop out the pieces, wrap in a kitchen towel or heavy-duty paper towels, and hold it over the sink while gently pressing to remove a bit of the excess water. Don’t overthink this — just press out what you easily can. Switch to the regular blade and return zucchini to the food processor bowl.
No food processor? You can also make pesto in a high-powered blender, but I highly recommend investing in a food processor when you can. There are reliable options ranging from fancy to budget, and they are incredibly useful, including for making many from-scratch sauces and doughs that will save you money in the long run.
- Blend remaining ingredients. Add everything else to the bowl, and blend away until it’s a smooth, delicious pesto!
Pro tip: Add olive oil at the end, and only 1-2 tablespoons at a time. Depending on how much water came out of your zucchini, and how you plan to use the pesto, it may take very little oil to reach your desired consistency. And you can always add more, but not take it out!
Zucchini pesto is amazing tossed with pasta or spiralized noodles. For another low-carb option, spread pesto on baked or grilled chicken, salmon, or shrimp. We love it in salmon pesto pasta, pesto Cavatappi, and pesto gnocchi with charred cherry tomatoes.
You can also use zucchini pesto as a sandwich spread, to make pesto pizza, or as a healthy dip for crackers and veggie sticks. The possibilities are endless!
Storage and freezing tips
Store zucchini pesto in a jar or other airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. The key to keeping it fresh? Pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before sealing the lid. This prevents oxidation and dull brown coloration, so your pesto tastes and looks as good after a week as it does freshly-made.
To keep pesto longer, transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Simply transfer to the fridge to thaw before using.
If you try this zucchini pesto, don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.
Healthy Zucchini Basil Pesto
For the Pesto:
- 2 cups grated zucchini from 1 large or 2 small zucchini
- 3 cloves garlic peeled
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- In a food processor fitted with the shredding disc, grate the zucchini. Scoop zucchini out of the bowl and into a clean kitchen towel or a few layered paper towels. Wrap the towel into a ball around the zucchini, hold over the sink, and squeeze with your hands to press out some of the water.
- Replace the food processor's shredding disc with the standard metal blade, and return the (somewhat more dry) shredded zucchini to the bowl. Add garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, basil, spinach, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth. With the food processor running, slowly add olive oil until the pesto reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
- Storage: If not using right away, transfer pesto to a jar or other airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Pour a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before sealing the lid. This prevents oxidation and dull brown coloration.
- Freezer: To keep pesto longer, transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Transfer to the fridge to thaw before using.
- Recipe: Adapted from Running to the Kitchen.
This post was originally published August 4, 2017. It has been updated with new photos and more helpful information on storage, freezing, and serving suggestions.
More zucchini recipes
- Parchment Lemon Salmon with Zucchini and Potatoes
- Lemon Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins
- Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins