This Ricotta Pesto Pasta is made with fresh zucchini, basil pesto and ricotta cheese. It’s an easy dinner recipe that is creamy, flavorful, and ready in just 30 minutes! 

When we lived near my parents, they would often show up carrying a 2-foot long zucchini from their garden. When this happens, I make multiple batches of Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread. Use any leftover pesto you have for my Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes or Pesto Tortellini Pasta Salad

A black bowl with Summer Zucchini pasta with ricotta and basil.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Fresh flavors. This pasta with ricotta and pesto includes fresh zucchini and lemon zest. I love the flavor combinations! 
  • Easy 30-minute dinner. This is a 30-minute easy pasta recipe that is perfect for weeknights when things are a bit crazy and you’re running short on time. Plus, if you have kids, this is a delicious meal that they’ll love (and it’s packed with zucchini so they’ll be getting a healthy dose of vegetables). #Winning.
  • Creamy ricotta pesto pasta. Pesto pasta with ricotta cheese is a game-changer! The creamy ricotta cheese adds a nice creamy texture to the pesto and creates a bit more consistency to the sauce. It’s the perfect flavor complement. 

Ingredient Notes

Ingredients for making summer zucchini pasta with ricotta and basil on a cream background.
  • Zucchini: I cut the zucchini into thin circular pieces. You are welcome to dice the zucchini or cut into spears. Circles or diced would help the zucchini disperse in the zucchini pesto pasta better. 
  • Basil Pesto: You can use a traditional pesto from the store or if you want a homemade option, try my Basil Pesto recipe! Kale Pesto is also a great option for this recipe. 
  • Ricotta: Homemade ricotta or store bought will work just fine. 
  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: You can omit this or add a lot more depending on your spice tolerance. The amount called for in the recipe isn’t enough to create a spicy flavor. 
  • Lemon Zest: This adds a freshness to the ricotta pesto pasta. If you don’t have fresh lemons, you can use dried lemon peel or a splash of lemon juice.
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan: Using freshly grated parmesan cheese will melt into the sauce better than store-bought pre-shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese that is packaged and sold in grocery stores is coated in cellulose that helps the cheese maintain its shredded form, making it harder to melt into a sauce. 
  • Penne Pasta: You can use whatever pasta you prefer. Bowtie, casarecce, rigatoni, penne, etc. all work great!  

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Cook the vegetables. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the zucchini is somewhat soft. Remove from heat. 
Two images showing how to make Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta: left has cooked onions in a skillet, right image has zucchini coins in a skillet.
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. While the zucchini is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt to the water. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just under al dente. Drain the water and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the pasta water. 
Two photos side by side: left shows cooked zucchini in a pot, and cooked pasta added to the pot.
  1. Combine. Add the zucchini and onion mixture to the pasta. Stir to combine.
  2. Add remaining ingredients. Add 3/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, the ricotta cheese, red pepper flakes, parmesan cheese, basil pesto, and lemon. Return to low heat and cook while stirring until creamy. Add more pasta water if needed to create a creamy sauce consistency. Serve warm! 
Two images side by side: left shows ricotta, pesto, and cheese over noodles, the right shows Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta mixed together.

Recipe Tips

Add 1/4 teaspoon-1/2 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes for a little kick of heat. 

Garnish this perfect pasta dish with some fresh basil leaves, salt and black pepper. You can also add some grilled chicken or shredded rotisserie chicken for some added protein. 

If you don’t have a fresh lemon, you can use lemon peel or a splash of lemon juice. 

You can use homemade fresh ricotta cheese if you wish! 

Be sure to reserve at least a cup of the pasta cooking water to add a bit of creaminess to the pesto and ricotta mixture.  

You want to under cook the zucchini and pasta because you’ll combine everything together and cook the zucchini pesto pasta for a few minutes to help warm up everything and make the sauce creamy. 

Make Ahead, Storing, and Freezing

Serving the ricotta pesto pasta while warm is the best option. Leftovers are delicious though! So if you want to make the recipe ahead of time you can. I would just add a bit more pasta water to make the sauce extra saucy because the liquid will reduce when reheating. 

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Reheat in the microwave or in a large pot with a little bit of water to help loosen up the sauce.

I don’t recommend freezing cooked pasta as it will turn mushy once thawed. 

Recipe FAQs

What can I use in place of zucchini?

You can use summer squash in place of zucchini! It will provide the most similar flavor and textures. 

Can I use cottage cheese instead of ricotta?

While cottage cheese and ricotta are fairly similar and make great substitutions for each other in lasagnas, I would recommend sticking the ricotta in this recipe. The nice thing about the ricotta cheese is that it incorporates into the pesto really well, making it a creamy pesto sauce. Cottage cheese has the cheese curds in it, which won’t combine into the pesto. 

Is this pesto and ricotta pasta spicy?

No it isn’t. There is a dash of red pepper flakes in the recipe, but not enough to add any spice. If you want it to be spicy, simply add 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. You are also welcome to omit the red pepper flakes as well. 

Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta mixed together in a black pot.

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A close up photo of Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta in a black pot.
Print Review
5 from 1 vote

Ricotta Pesto Pasta with Zucchini

This Ricotta Pesto Pasta is made with zucchini and is refreshing, flavorful, and easy to make. The red pepper flakes add a hint of heat with the lemon zest bringing in a balanced freshness to the dish. It's the perfect dinner. 
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 30 mins
Servings: 8 servings

Ingredients
 

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion - diced (about 1 3/4-2 cups)
  • 2 lbs zucchini - sliced into 1/4″ inch thick coins
  • 3 garlic cloves - minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup basil pesto
  • 1 1/3 cup Ricotta
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 lb penne pasta

Instructions
 

  • In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions to the butter and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini. Season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the zucchini is somewhat soft (but not too soft!), about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat. 
  • While the zucchini is cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil, once boiling add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the water. Cook the pasta until a tad under al dente. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1 1/2 cups of the pasta water. 
  • Add the pasta to the zucchini mixture. Stir to combine. 
  • Add ¾ cups of the reserved pasta water, ricotta, red pepper flakes, parmesan, pesto, and lemon. Turn heat to low and cook and stir until the pasta turns creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you need to add more pasta water to the dish, do so. Serve immediately.

Notes

If you don’t have a fresh lemon, you can use lemon peel or a splash of lemon juice. 
Be sure to reserve at least a cup of the pasta cooking water to add a bit of creaminess to the pesto and ricotta mixture.  
Recipe Source: Adapted from NY Times Cooking

Nutrition

Calories: 447kcal (22%)Carbohydrates: 50g (17%)Protein: 18g (36%)Fat: 19g (29%)Saturated Fat: 9g (45%)Cholesterol: 45mg (15%)Sodium: 685mg (29%)Potassium: 501mg (14%)Fiber: 3g (12%)Sugar: 5g (6%)Vitamin A: 890IU (18%)Vitamin C: 21.7mg (26%)Calcium: 286mg (29%)Iron: 1.5mg (8%)
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
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