This summer pasta salad is an easy vegetarian pasta salad with zucchini, lemon, and herbs that is high in protein and can be made ahead. Whether you serve it warm or cold, you are going to love this refreshing and satisfying zucchini summer salad!
About the recipe
This healthy summer pasta salad with zucchini is what summer recipes are supposed to be: easy, fresh, FULL of flavor, and loaded with as many garden-fresh ingredients as possible.
It's also incredibly versatile and simple to modify. Don't like dill? Add in some parsley or cilantro instead. Want to add in a handful of tomatoes? Go for it! Need to make it ahead? That's an option too. You're going to love how easy it is to adapt this recipe to your taste preferences, what you have on hand, and the time you need to make it.
Because this summer pasta salad is made with chickpea pasta, it's incredibly filling and high in plant-based protein and fiber. It totally stands on its own as a full meal, but feel free to add chicken or fish for those who need meat for a little extra substance. Let's make some!
- Bowtie noodles - also called farfalle. I'm using Banza chickpea noodles for this recipe since it's a vegetarian dish and the chickpea noodles are higher in fiber and protein.
- Zucchini - green or yellow zucchini are great!
- Olive oil - get a good quality one, since this is dressing for the salad. I love California Olive Ranch for a more affordable option and Pruneti Italian Olive Oil for a splurge.
- Salt and pepper
- Lemon juice and zest
- Fresh basil and dill
- Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
- Red pepper flakes
- Chickpea breadcrumbs
Step 1: Get everything prepped. While the pasta water comes to a boil, I like to toast my chickpea breadcrumbs, chop my zucchini, basil, and dill, and grate the Parmesan cheese.
Step 2: Cook the pasta and zucchini. While the pasta cooks, I give my zucchini a quick saute in the skillet I used to toast the breadcrumbs in. The zucchini just needs 3-4 minutes in the skillet to slightly tenderize it - don't overcook it!
Step 3: Drain the pasta and add the warm noodles to the skillet of zucchini. Add in salt and pepper to taste, olive oil, lemon juice, basil, dill, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and your toasted chickpea breadcrumbs.
Step 4: Serve and enjoy! See how easy that was?!?
Below are some of my best tips for making this healthy summer pasta salad, as well as some answers to commonly asked questions!
How do you add flavor to pasta?
To avoid bland pasta salad, you need to properly salt the cooking water the past goes into! Properly-seasoned pasta water should taste "as salty as the sea," in the words of Chef Samin Nosrat. Once the water comes to a boil, add about ¼ cup of salt. Ladle out a spoonful, cool it off a little, and taste. Add more salt as needed, bringing the water back to a boil before adding the pasta.
Can you make pasta salad the night before?
Pasta salad is a perfect dish for making ahead of time! If you are going to make it ahead, you will want to rinse the pasta with cold water after cooking it to cool it down quickly. Add the cooled pasta to the sauteed zucchini and other ingredients, toss, then refrigerate. Serve the pasta salad cold the next day.
Can zucchini be eaten uncooked?
You can totally skip the step of sautéing the zucchini and just add it raw to the pasta salad, if you prefer. If you are going to add raw zucchini to the pasta salad, cut it into really thin strips. I find that thinner pieces of veggies in pasta salad tend to have a better texture when served raw.
Should I peel zucchini?
No, you do not need to peel zucchini for serving it in pasta salad. Zucchini has a very thin outer layer, which has a very similar texture to the flesh inside. It is easy to eat and has a great amount of antioxidants in the skin!
Substitutions + serving suggestions
Zucchini goes well with so many ingredients, so you can certainly adapt this pasta salad recipe to what you have on hand. Below are some suggestions for modifications:
- Add in 1 cup of sliced summer cherry or grape tomatoes
- Use a combination of zucchini and yellow squash
- Substitute toasted chopped nuts or sunflower seeds for the chickpea breadcrumbs
- Make a vegan pasta salad by omitting Parmesan and subbing in ⅓ cup of nutritional yeast
- Use whatever fresh herbs you have on hand: thyme, rosemary, parsley, chives, chervil, or cilantro are all good substitutions!
Are you ready to make this Summer Pasta Salad? I’m so excited for you to try this recipe. Once you get the chance to make it, please let me know how it turns out for you!
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Summer Pasta Salad with Zucchini
- 8 ounces Banza bowtie noodles
- 3 medium zucchini (about 1 ¼ pounds)
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for pan
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Juice and zest of one large lemon, about 3 tablespoons
- ⅓ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- Toasted chickpea breadcrumbs, for sprinkling
- Put a large stockpot of water on to boil for the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, cut the zucchini into 2-inch long strips, about ¼-inch thick. Chop your basil and dill, and grate your Parmesan (this is also a good time to lightly toast your chickpea breadcrumbs if you have made them ahead. Just use the large skillet to toast them, then reuse it to continue with this recipe).
- Cook the pasta noodles according to package directions, being sure to salt the pasta water thoroughly (it should be almost as salty as seawater). While the pasta is cooking, place a large skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the zucchini and saute for about 2-4 minutes, until the zucchini is just slightly tender - it should still have a bit of crispness to it. Remove the pan from heat, then sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.
- Drain the pasta, then add it to the still-warm zucchini in the skillet. Add the lemon zest and juice, chopped herbs, Parmesan, crushed red pepper, and about ½ cup of toasted chickpea breadcrumbs. Toss to combine. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
- Leftovers taste amazing and can be enjoyed straight from the fridge for up to 3 days.