Caramelized Zucchini Pasta Shells

July 22, 2022

Caramelized Zucchini Pasta Shells

Would you believe me if I tell you that these Caramelized Zucchini Pasta Shells are the perfect summertime recipe?
Hear me out: a ton of fresh zucchini is cooked down with olive oil, butter, shallot, and garlic until soft and caramelized. It’s then tossed with pasta and parmesan cheese.
Delicious and not to mention a great way to use up the zucchini stash in your fridge.
Did I convince you?

Caramelized Zucchini Pasta Shells
The beauty of this recipe is that it transforms two pounds of grated zucchini into a caramelized wonder that’s sweet and rich.
The zukes are cooked over low heat in a combination of butter and olive oil with shallot, garlic, and basil.
Slow cooking truly brings out the richness and depth and concentrates the flavors.
With a bit of time and patience you have a not-so-pretty but pretty-darn-delicious mixture that is great with pasta but can also be added to sandwiches, pizzas or even used as a spread on toast.

Caramelized Zucchini Pasta Shells
I labeled it as “pasta sauce” to be socially acceptable but you can also eat it by the spoonful like I did — when no-one is looking of course. Remember, this is a judgment free zone!

Caramelized Zucchini Pasta Shells
Caramelized Zucchini Pasta Shells                                                                                                   Print this recipe!
Adapted from NYTCooking

Note: as the zucchini cooks down, browned bits may begin to appear in the skillet. Deglaze them with water to help prevent burning and to incorporate those tasty bits into the sauce.

Serves 5

1 lb / 453 gr pasta shells (or other short-cut pasta such as penne)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you want to keep the recipe vegan)
2 shallots (or 1 small onion), finely chopped
2 lbs / 900 gr zucchini, coarsely grated
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Juice of half lemon
Grated parmesan cheese for serving


In a large skillet over medium heat melt the butter and oil.
When it’s foaming add chopped shallots (or onion) and garlic cloves. Sauté for a couple of minutes, until fragrant.
Add grated zucchini and half of the basil leaves. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes without touching.
Give a good stir and cook for further 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for further 20 to 25 minutes stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the zucchini is very soft, dark green, and has lost its volume to about one cup.
If during the cooking you notice a build up of browned bits, stir immediately, scraping up the browned bits and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Repeat anytime more browning occurs.
When done, remove from the heat and set aside. Caramelized zucchini can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook al dente according to package instructions.
Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta.
Return the skillet to the stove top over medium high heat, remove garlic cloves, add pasta water, and remaining basil leaves. Stir until the pasta is glossed with sauce and all of the water has evaporated.
Stir in lemon juice, give a good stir, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Nutrition facts

One serving yields 435 calories, 11 grams of fat, 74 grams of carbs, and 14 grams of protein.


  1. This was some good stuff! I saw a similar recipe on Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy and thinking it looked so good. Now you’ve brought that recipe to us! Thanks!