A simple recipe transforms excess zucchini into healthy zucchini basil pesto with spinach, parmesan, garlic and pine nuts. Toss with pasta for a quick weeknight meal!
There’s no denying it – I make, and we eat, a lot of pasta. It’s fast, easy, and delicious, and I really need all of those things in my life and my meal plans. At the same time, I’m all about finding ways to add variety, use seasonal produce, and make that pasta more healthy for us. Enter one of my favorite recipes that accomplishes all of these tasks: quick and healthy zucchini basil pesto.
Without a doubt, zucchini is one of the most prolific late summer vegetables. I don’t keep a vegetable garden – my thumb is pitch black, I swear that plants wilt a little if I even glance at them in the store – but I see the crazy piles of zucchini at farmers markets and grocery stores. And I understand from people who do somehow 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 and muffins and cakes, because it adds a lot of moisture without an overpowering flavor. But if you’re interested in a savory way to incorporate zucchini straight into your main dish, well, you’re in the right place.
We’re going to take grated zucchini, squeeze a bit of that moisture out, and combine it with garlic, parmesan, spinach, basil, pine nuts, and a little seasoning. A quick spin in the food processor takes you from this:
Toss that pesto with some cooked pasta, sprinkle with more parmesan and pine nuts, if you like, and dinner is served!
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 zucchini and spinach in every bite. 100% approved by both the picky toddler and the teenager who “doesn’t like” zucchini. 🙂
Goes great with a glass of dry white, too!
A quick note on the method – I resisted buying a food processor for several years even after I began to cook often at home. Why oh why did I wait so long!? This thing is a workhorse. Food processors make things possible that would otherwise be, if not impossible, then prohibitively time-consuming or just plain annoying. The hardest part is hauling it up onto the counter. Even clean-up isn’t bad – everything that gets dirty goes straight in the dishwasher.
If you think, as I once did, that food processors are for other people, I urge you to reconsider. The first time you hear that little whir and watch all your ingredients fuse together with the press of a button, you’ll be a believer.Bombarded with ALL THE ZUCCHINI!? Turn a few into this healthy pesto w/ parmesan and pine nuts!Click To Tweet
The pesto also goes very well with grilled chicken breasts, if you’d like to add a little more protein. This meal works especially well for my family because the pasta provides something relatively hearty for my two vegetarians, and it’s easy to grill a couple of chicken breasts separately for the carnivores.
Not only will you be eating well with all this good stuff around, but between the pasta, the muffins, and the meatballs, you’re sure to get some green veg in even the pickiest eater – without a tantrum or fight!
Now that’s something we can all cheer for! Enjoy! 🙂
Quick, 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 freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 16 ounces (500 grams) pasta
- additional parmesan and pine nuts as desired
- In a food processor fitted with the shredding disc, grate the zucchini. Scoop zucchini out of the bowl and into a clean dish towel. (The towel might absorb some green color, which should wash out, but use an *old* clean towel to be safe - or paper towels.)
- Wrap the shredded zucchini up in the towel, and squeeze with your hands to press some of the water out into the sink. Replace the shredding disc with the metal blade, and return the (somewhat more dry) shredded zucchini to the bowl of the food processor.
- Add the garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, basil, spinach, salt, and pepper to the zucchini and 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.
- Stir pesto into cooked pasta, and serve with additional parmesan and pine nuts, as desired. Pesto will keep at least 3-4 days in the fridge; store with a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto in a tightly sealed container. (The olive oil minimizes the pesto’s contact with air, which keeps it fresher longer.)
Adapted from Running to the Kitchen