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It’s pretty much guaranteed that my daughter will say “butter and Parmesan cheese pasta” if I ask her what she wants for dinner. The simplicity of noodles in cheesy butter sauce is satisfying (and tasty) enough that I usually give in, but I wish it had some vegetables in it to make it a one-dish meal.
This wish was granted a few years ago when I made her this creamy zucchini fettuccine, which comes from Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. It’s so good that my daughter happily added this to her allowable zucchini dish lineup, which previously only included breaded zucchini fries and zucchini bread. With the proliferation of zucchini flooding the summer produce lineup, it’s become a weeknight family favorite and one I’m happy to serve as my family is trying to move towards eating less meat and more vegetables.
How to Make Creamy Zucchini Fettuccine
I first made this recipe for a photo shoot when it published here on Kitchn. It was quick and easy to make, and we gobbled it up for lunch after we finished photographing it. It’s basically a summer fettuccine Alfredo: Little cubes of diced zucchini are first sautéed with garlic and a little butter (plus some red pepper flakes if you like a little heat), then finished with finely grated lemon zest. To make the sauce, add in more butter, some cream, and grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese before tossing the whole lot with cooked fettuccine pasta and finishing it with basil. I like to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining the fettuccine and add a few splashes to the final sauce if it needs to thin out a bit.
Yes, Zucchini Belongs in Fettuccine Alfredo
While classic fettuccine Alfredo can be heavy with all of that dairy, the lemon zest cuts through the richness in this version. The zucchini helps lighten the dish up, too, thanks to its neutral flavor and a texture that mimics pasta. (This recipe was before the popularity of zoodles, so Brown was definitely onto something with how she used zucchini here.) The basil is a nice finishing touch that also brightens things up, although my daughter prefers her bowl herb-free.
The beauty of this dish is that is uses a lot of staples I already have in my kitchen: garlic, Parmesan, butter, lemon, and pasta. All I need is some zucchini, cream, and basil from the little pot I try to keep alive in the summer, and a hearty vegetable pasta is ready to eat in less than half an hour from start to finish. The amount of zucchini is also very flexible: I’ve used larger ones here with no problem and just make sure to add in an extra splash of cream and a few more sprinkles of cheese to make sure there’s enough sauce.
Although I do like to serve this with a salad if I have the time, there’s enough zucchini here that I don’t feel guilty if it’s all we’re having for dinner. It makes enough to feed my little family of two adults and one 8-year-old, but you can easily double it to use up the entire package of pasta — or if your bumper crop of zucchini has taken over and you need to find a way to use up more. It’s a satisfying dish that hits all the hallmarks of fettuccine Alfredo, but with some light touches that help it fit in with summer eating. Time to put that summer squash to work!
At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.