This caramelized zucchini pasta is the perfect summertime recipe. Fresh zucchini is cooked down with olive oil, butter, and garlic until soft and caramelized. It’s then tossed with al dente pasta and lots of parmigiano. It’s super delicious and it’s the perfect way to use up all of your summer zucchini!
What is caramelized zucchini pasta
I first heard of this caramelized zucchini pasta while I was watching Stanley Tucci's Italy show.
It was a glorious pasta dish made with crispy fried zucchini that was then cooked down into a delicious sauce that was showered in two types of Italian cheeses.
Because I have two kids and his version was rather labor-intensive, I created this shortcut version based on how my mom ALWAYS makes zucchini.
Slow cooking it with lots of butter, olive oil, and sweet onion. Doing so truly brings out the sweetness and depth of this delicious summertime squash.
It's almost like caramelizing onions except we're doing it with squash!
The pasta sauce itself is made with reserved pasta water, parmigiano and the cooked down zucchini.
It's basically heave on a plate and it's the perfect summertime dish!
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Olive Oil - If you don't have olive oil, you could use avocado oil or another neutral oil.
- Salted Butter - Salted butter adds so much flavor but if you only have unsalted, you can use that -- just add two extra hefty pinches of salt.
- Sweet Onion - Sweet onion helps caramelize the squash but you could definitely use a white or yellow onion or even shallots.
- Zucchini - Zucchini is the star of this dish but you could also use yellow squash.
- Fresh Garlic - Please use the real stuff - not the minced jarred variety unless you absolutely have to.
- Garlic Powder - The powder may seem excessive but it really makes a difference. If you don't have any, use onion powder or skip it.
- Pasta - I'm using Sfoglini's Spaccatelli but you could use whatever kind of pasta your heart desires.
- Parmigiano - Look for the real stuff with the writing on the rind! It works the best but regular parmesan, romano or asiago will work, too!
- Kosher Salt - This is what I always recommend for cooking but you could use sea salt or pink salt if that's what you prefer.
How to make it
Making this caramelized zucchini pasta is pretty easy if you've got some patience!
First you'll want to prepare your pasta of choice al dente according to the directions on the box. Just make sure to save at least ½ cup of pasta water for finishing the dish.
Next grab a big heavy bottomed skillet. I used this braiser that I love!
Now heat it up over medium and add olive oil and butter.
Once it starts to bubble, add the onion, a hefty pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes.
Cook this mixture down until slightly softened - about 5-7 minutes.
Now add the zucchini, another hefty pinch of salt, and cook it down, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, for about 20-30 minutes or until the zucchini is caramelized and soft.
Then it's time to add the fresh garlic, the garlic powder, and a few cranks of fresh ground pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes -- just enough to mellow the raw garlic taste.
Now add in the al dente pasta and stir everything together.
Add your parmigiano cheese and a little bit of pasta water (2-3 tbsp at a time) until the sauce is glossy and creamy.
NOTE: You do not need to use all the reserved pasta water - just enough to help emulsify the sauce
Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve.
What goes with Zucchini Pasta
I'd pair this pasta dish with this tasty burrata caprese salad or even make a few of these Bourdain Mortadella Sandwiches as sliders.
It would also be really nice with some sheet pan cauliflower piccata or you could beef it up and serve it with this tasty sausage, pepper and onion lasagna.
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Caramelized Zucchini Pasta
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 1 large sweet onion diced
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 medium-large zucchini very thinly sliced
- 5 cloves garlic finely sliced
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ lb pasta such as Sfoglini Spaccatelli
- ¼ cup reserved pasta water
- ½ cup grated parmigiano
- kosher salt
- Prepare pasta al dente according to the directions — making sure to save at least ½ cup of pasta water for finishing the dish.
- Add olive oil and butter to a large pan over medium heat.
- Once it starts to bubble, add the onion, a hefty pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes. Cook this mixture down until slightly softened - about 5-7 minutes.
- Now add the zucchini, another hefty pinch of salt, and cook down, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, for about 20-30 minutes or until the zucchini is caramelized and soft.
- Then add the fresh garlic, the garlic powder, and a few cranks of fresh ground pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add in the al dente pasta and stir everything together.
- Now add your parmigiano cheese and a little bit of pasta water (2-3tbsp at a time) until the sauce is glossy and creamy. (You do not need to use all the reserved pasta water - just enough to help emulsify the sauce)
- Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve.