This 4 Ingredient Zucchini Pasta recipe is one of the simplest, easiest recipes on this website. And while it's incredibly quick and easy to make, it does not lack flavor. The acidic lemon, umami-forward garlic, and jammy consistency of the zucchini all make this recipe quite balanced and delicious. Plus, there's no special equipment involved! (some recipes call for blending the cooked food processor to make a zucchini mixture)
The truth is, you can find good zucchini all year long in most grocery stores. It doesn't have to be "zucchini season" to make it. The best zucchini are firm when squeezed. And the slimmer the zucchini, the better.
I should note that this recipe is NOT for zucchini noodles or spaghetti, but rather, zucchini slices and short pasta. It's a perfectly lemony, garlicky zucchini pasta dish that comes together in just about 15 minutes. And it's pretty hearty. A great way to enjoy a comforting pasta dish that's also loaded with vegetables.
It's really great on its own but also makes a perfect side dish for grilled chicken or first course at a dinner party.
How to make 4 Ingredient Zucchini Pasta
First, here's what you'll need. The 4 main ingredients in this zucchini pasta dish are pasta, zucchini, garlic, and lemon. As with most recipes, you'll need olive oil and salt too. I don't count these as part of the 4 ingredients.
Like with a lot of traditional Italian food, this recipe relies on just a few good, high-quality ingredients to acheive as much flavor and balance as possible.
The 4 main ingredients are:
- Thinly sliced Zucchini
- Pasta (fusilli, penne, or rigatoni work great)
- Garlic cloves
- Lemon zest and juice
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher Salt
- Optional: Red pepper flakes
See recipe card for exact amounts.
The process of making this easy 4 ingredient zucchini pasta recipe is the same as many other simple pasta recipes. And the total time spent cooking is only about 15 minutes. You first sauté the zucchini and garlic, then deglaze with lemon juice, and finally add the cooked pasta and some pasta water.
Step 1: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium or large pot and salt it with kosher salt until it's about as salty as soup.
Step 2: Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium-large skillet, such as this All Clad 3 quart sauté pan, over medium heat. (if you have small burners, use medium-high heat) Once hot, add all the zucchini slices and allow them to develop some color for 3 minutes before stirring.
Then continue to sauté, stirring occasionally for another 6 minutes, or until the zucchini are more deeply golden brown all over and have a more jammy consistency.
Step 3: Once the zucchini are jammy and soft, add the garlic slices, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon salt, and sauté for 2 more minutes. (you can drop the pasta in the water at this point too)
Step 4: Finally, add the lemon juice and let it mostly evaporate. Reduce it to low heat or turn off the heat entirely until the pasta is cooked to al dente, so you don't over-cook or burn the zucchini.
When the pasta is ready, turn the heat back on, and add the al dente pasta, plus ¾ of a cup of the pasta water from the pot. Toss it all to combine.
It'll turn into a somewhat creamy sauce without the use of any cream! All thanks to pasta water.
Step 5: Serve immediately in warm bowls. Top with crushed red pepper flakes, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and/or fresh black pepper if desired.
- I recommend that you do NOT use a mandoline slicer to make this recipe. Especially because the recipe doesn't call for ultra thin slices. ⅛ inch is very easy to accomplish with a regular chef's knife.
- Allowing the zucchini to cook unsalted and undisturbed for the first 3 minutes lets them develop better browning. Salt would draw out all their liquid. Stirring would prevent browning on that initial side.
- Prepare the zucchini, garlic, and lemon juice and zest before starting to cook. It's best to have everything prepared in advance, especially for a recipe like this one that comes together so quickly.
- There's no need to treat the zucchini in any special type of way. You don't need to salt it and pat it dry with a paper towel. And you wont be blending it in a food processor. Those techniques are used in making the more specific spaghetti alla nerano, a recipe that comes from the Amalfi coast of Italy. This recipe is like a cousin of that recipe.
- Don't dump the pasta through a colander. instead, simply transfer the pasta from the water directly to the skillet using a spider. (one of my favorite kitchen tools) Then you don't have to reserve any pasta water, it can jut stay in the pot. If you don't have a spider, try using a slotted spoon.
Since there are only 4 ingredients in this zucchini pasta dish, there are very few substitutions you'd need to make.
- Gluten free: Simply use gluten free pasta.
Additions to 4 Ingredient Zucchini Pasta
- Top with parmesan cheese: I find that parmesan has the ability to overwhelm garlic and olive oil-forward pasta dishes. I suggest trying the recipe without it first so you really taste the garlic. Then top with a little cheese if you find yourself wanting it.
- Make it spicy: Top with red pepper flakes, to add a hint of spice without overpowering the simple dish.
- Fresh cherry tomatoes, tomato paste, or canned tomatoes: Tomatoes and zucchini are a match made in heaven. They actually develop a similar jammy consistency when cooked, which helps make the dish saucy. If using any tomatoes, add them with the garlic, after the zucchini slices are mostly cooked.
- Add chick peas: Zucchini and chick peas pair really nicely together. Add a half can of chick peas alongside the garlic if you want to make the dish more protein packed.
- Add frozen peas: If you like peas, this is another way to make the dish slightly more hearty. Add then right at the end. They only need a minute or so to heat through.
- Finish the dish with fresh basil leaves: The subtle taste of fresh basil is certainly welcome in this 4 ingredient zucchini pasta dish, but if you don't have it, don't sweat it.
Leftover Zucchini Pasta
If you plan to eat the leftovers over the next day or 2, simply let them come down to room temperature then store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
To reheat add a splash of water and place leftovers in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each 30 seconds until heated through.
OR add a splash of water and heat the leftovers in a skillet.
Doubling the Recipe
This 4 ingredient zucchini pasta recipe is for a half pound of pasta, which only feeds 2 people as a main course. (or 4 as a side dish) But it's very easy to double the recipe.
Simply double all the ingredients except for the lemon zest. You'll also benefit from using a larger skillet, such as this 5 Quart All Clad, so you don't overcrowd the with the extra zucchini.
Both are great vegetarian pasta recipes that you can make with just a few high quality ingredients.
A wildly easy to make Zucchini Pasta dish with flavors of lemon and garlic.
- 2 small zucchinis, sliced into ⅛ inch half moons
- ½ pound of short pasta (fusilli, penne, or rigatoni work great)
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- The juice of 1 lemon and the zest of half of the lemon
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt (plus more to salt the pasta water)
- Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium or large pot and salt it with kosher salt until it's about as salty as soup.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a 3 quart skillet over medium heat. (if you have small burners, use medium-high heat) Once hot, add all the zucchini slices and allow them to develop some color for 3 minutes without stirring. Then continue to sauté, stirring occasionally for another 6 minutes, or until the zucchini are more deeply golden brown all over and have a more jammy consistency.
- Once the zucchini are jammy and soft, add the garlic slices, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon salt, and sauté for 2 more minutes. Drop the pasta in the water at this point too.
Finally, add the lemon juice and let it mostly evaporate. Reduce it to low heat or turn off the heat entirely until the pasta is cooked to al dente, so you don't over-cook or burn the zucchini. When the pasta is ready, turn the heat back on, transfer the al dente pasta to the zucchini using a spider or slotted spoon, and add ¾ of a cup of the pasta water from the pot. Toss it all to combine.
- Serve immediately in warm bowls. Top with crushed red pepper flakes, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and/or fresh black pepper if desired.
Keywords: 4 ingredient zucchini pasta, zucchini pasta recipe