Want to satisfy your pasta cravings without the carbs? Well, now you can! I have been experimenting with vegetable noodles in search of a dish that offers a healthier and lighter alternative. After a few trials, we have deemed pesto zucchini noodles a promising compromise.
My pesto zucchini noodles consist of sauteed zucchini noodles paired with fresh homemade basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, and cherry tomatoes. Plus, you can add chicken for some extra protein and a more substantial dish! If you’re feeling skeptical, I was a little at first too. This quick and easy recipe yielded the closest results to pesto pasta in all of our trials (and it even looks like pasta too). If anything, it makes a great side veggie.
How to Cook Zucchini Noodles
The key to cooking zucchini noodles is to not overcook them. In fact, you want to very lightly saute them in a pan with oil to warm them up. Overcooking will make them soggy and watery. No need to heat them for more than 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Whatever you do, don’t boil the noodles or they will turn into a soupy mush.
Zucchini is nearly flavorless, allowing the pesto sauce to really take over and carry the entire dish. This recipe is on the table in about 15 minutes if you buy prepared zucchini noodles, which are pretty common in most grocery stores. If you’re feeling more ambitious you can easily make your own using a spiralizer.
Tips for Making Homemade Basil Pesto
More important than anything in this entire recipe is making your own homemade basil pesto. This will add tremendous fresh flavor that will help balance the lack of real flavor and texture from delicious pasta. Homemade pesto is very easy to make at home. Here are some important tips.
- Pesto is best made in a food processor, however, I’ve been making it in a single-serve smoothie blender for a long time. The key is to pulse the blender so as to not overblend the pesto and turn it into slime. Shake the contents to help mix as needed.
- Pesto should be thick and slightly granular in appearance. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil to help thin it out a bit. Pesto can be adjusted in a bowl by simply stirring in extra olive oil.
- Always use extra virgin olive oil and FRESH ingredients. Do not substitute canola or vegetable oil.
- Do not use dried basil! Always use fresh basil leaves.
- If your pesto is too thin or runny and you’ve run out of fresh basil, you can add some baby spinach. You can also stir in a little cornstarch. This will help to thicken the sauce without adding any flavor. I would merely consider this a last resort but it works in a pinch.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust pesto with additional salt afterward. The salt helps to bring out the flavor and really makes pesto pop.
- Fresh garlic is best, but you can substitute garlic powder.
- Walnuts can be substituted for pine nuts. I prefer pine nuts, but walnuts work in a pinch. You can usually find pine nuts in the baking aisle with the other nuts.
Pesto Recipes You’ll Love
- Baked pesto pasta with mozzarella
- Pesto pasta salad
- Homemade pasta with pesto
- Chicken pesto panini
- Pesto gnocchi with shrimp
- Pesto shrimp pasta
- Pesto shrimp skewers
A healthy alternative to my favorite pesto pasta recipe. Zucchini noodles are covered in homemade basil pesto and topped with fresh mozzarella and sauteed tomatoes.
- 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped (optional)
- 1 pound zucchini noodles (2 medium zucchinis, spiralized)
- 10 sungold or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 1–2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 loosely packed cups of basil leaves, about 2.5 ounces
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the pesto
- Combine all pesto ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Blend/pulse until mixed and smooth.
- With the motor running, add olive oil in a slow stream until combined. Pesto should not be too soupy or fine. Set aside. Can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge in a tightly sealed container. Cover with plastic wrap seated directly on top of the surface to prevent browning/air exposure.
For the chicken and zucchini
- In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. If adding chicken, sauté until fully cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Season all over with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes. Set chicken/tomatoes aside on a plate and remove excess moisture on the pan if any.
- Add a splash of more oil along with zucchini noodles. Heat through until warm and just tender. Do not overcook or they will get soggy. 1-2 minutes is all you need.
- Return chicken/tomatoes to the pan and turn off the heat. Toss the dish with pesto until fully coated.
- Serve in bowls topped with fresh chopped mozzarella.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a standard blender or single-serve blender instead. Just don’t blend the ingredients too aggressively or it will turn into a creamy paste. If using a single-serve blender, combine all ingredients together and pulse until smooth. Shaking the containing in between blends will help to mix the ingredients if they get “stuck.”
- Serving Size: 1
- Calories: 612
- Sugar: 21.7g
- Sodium: 450mg
- Fat: 32.8g
- Saturated Fat: 6.8g
- Carbohydrates: 32.6g
- Fiber: 10.1g
- Protein: 51.5g
- Cholesterol: 133mg
Keywords: zucchini noodles recipe