Using a whole pound of zucchini, this Zucchini Pesto is a wonderful way to add more veggies to a simple meal and put that summer squash to good use in a delicious way! Full of traditional pesto flavors from garlic, basil, Parmesan cheese, and lemon, this easy homemade pesto also has added spinach and is made with almonds instead of pine nuts! Perfect to mix with pasta, spoon over grilled meats and fish, or to add a veggie-loaded twist to homemade pizzas.

Gold spoon with zucchini pesto atop a jar with zucchini pesto. Zucchini and garlic out of focus off to the side.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of summer produce, all the zucchini recipes start bouncing around in my head. After all, once the seasonal zucchini crop is underway, we all know squash the size of baseball bats will soon be showing up on our doorstep from the gardens of family, friends, and neighbors (not to mention the zucchini from our OWN garden!).

So, naturally, I got to creating in my kitchen and developed this pesto made with zucchini! While I already have a recipe for spinach pesto, among a whole assortment of homemade sauces and spreads (made WITH veggies, FOR veggies, or both!), I wanted to find a way to use up all of that bountiful zucchini—all while adding veggies into my meals in some novel ways. After all, even the biggest zucchini muffin lover will tire of them after awhile! And working with what we have on hand is the name of the game in the kitchen —especially when it comes to increasing our vegetable intake!

This Zucchini Pesto recipe is a classic spread—but made with an often underrated ingredient…zucchini! Coming together in about 15 to 20 minutes, this pesto is veggie-loaded with an entire POUND of zucchini (quickly sautéed for EXTRA flavor!), fresh spinach, and fresh basil. Thanks to the addition of grated Parmesan, fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and sliced almonds, this go-to spread showcases a traditional pesto flavor while offering an alternative to those with allergies to pine nuts (which are often used in pesto recipes). This pesto adds a ton of flavor without much fuss and can be enjoyed mixed with pasta, spread over proteins (chicken, steak, or fish), pizza, or even on top of other veggies. Naturally gluten free, egg-free and easily vegetarian when you use vegetarian Parm (Yes, you read that right—Parmesan is NOT vegetarian as it contains animal rennet). Since this Zucchini Pesto keeps beautifully in the fridge for up to 5 days, it is a great to make ahead of time to help add flavor to a simple meal (try it in my pesto pasta salad and prepare to be dazzled!).

Two whole zucchini, lemon, three garlic cloves, and one bowl of spinach, one bowl of basil, one bowl of sliced almonds, and a bowl of grated cheese on a white marble surface.
Ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, zucchini, garlic cloves, kosher salt, baby spinach, basil leaves, sliced almonds, grated Parmesan cheese, fresh lemon juice

Did you know pesto freezes like a dream? It does! Make ahead, or simply take your leftovers, and place in a container in the freezer (a little jar works great! I like to save jars from store-bought pesto or jam as these are the perfect size). Pesto thaws pretty quickly, so scooping out your needed amount is easy. However, another way to freeze pesto is in ice cube trays. Simply fill the ice cube trays around half way and, once frozen solid, transfer to a freezer bag or other freezer safe container and you will have portioned out pesto at the ready!

How to make Zucchini Pesto: a visual step-by-step guide

Sliced zucchini, minced garlic, and salt in a cast-iron pan sitting on a white surface.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, then stir in the garlic and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until the garlic is lightly toasted and the zucchini is well browned, another 2 to 3 minutes.
Zucchini pesto ingredients (spinach, grated cheese, sliced almonds, salt, minced garlic, basil, and zucchini) in a food processor bowl without a top. Food processor bowl is sitting on white surface.
Transfer the cooked zucchini in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Allow the zucchini to cool until just warm. (You could also do this part ahead of time and allow the zucchini to cool fully before making the pesto.) Once the zucchini is cool, add the spinach, basil, nuts, parmesan, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.
Zucchini pesto ingredients blended up in a food processor bowl without a top. Food processor bowl is sitting on white surface.
Blend until creamy and mostly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Zucchini Pesto in a bowl with ingredients set to the side (zucchini, basil, sliced almonds, grated cheese, and cloves of garlic).
Taste and add more salt and/or lemon juice as you’d like. Use the pesto right away or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.

Do I have to cook the zucchini for this pesto?

We tested this pesto with raw zucchini (because who wants extra steps??) and found that it was quite watery and the raw veggie flavor didn’t quite work for what we were hoping to achieve with this pesto recipe. The cooking process helps to cook off some of the zucchini’s water and give it a delightful flavor.

Suggested Adaptations

  • Make it nut-free. You can make this pesto nut-free by replacing the nuts with seeds—such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
  • For a dairy-free pesto, leave out the Parmesan cheese and add additional salt to taste. The pesto will still be delicious without the cheese.
  • Use toasted nuts for a deeper, richer flavor. You can toast nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, (watching them carefully) until they are golden brown.

Serving Suggestions

One of the best things about pesto is that there are so many ways to enjoy it. But if you need a few ideas, here are my favorite ways to pesto:

  • Toss with your favorite cooked pasta to use as a sauce. For pasta salad, whisk a little extra olive oil into the pesto then use as the dressing.
  • This Zucchini Pesto can be used as a spread in a sandwich or for the sauce on the base of a pizza.
  • You can also use the pesto as a dip for raw veggies and crackers.
Gold spoon sitting in a glass container filled with Zucchini Pesto. Zucchini Pesto ingredients (zucchini, basil, cloves of garlic, bowl of grated cheese, sliced almonds, and lemon) set aside as decoration.

Other zucchini recipes to try

Loving this Zucchini Pesto recipe and now you’re hungry for more?

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Gold fork sitting atop white plate filled with farfalle pasta covered with Zucchini Pesto. Decorative ingredients (zucchini, sliced almonds, basil, grated cheese, and lemon slice) and a cream colored linen napkin are set to the side.
Zucchini Pesto (without Pine Nuts) served in a small bowl
5 from 10 votes

Zucchini Pesto (without Pine Nuts)

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Cuisine: American, Italian
Course: Condiment, sauce
Using a whole pound of zucchini, this Zucchini Pesto is a wonderful way to add more veggies to a simple meal and put that summer zucchini to good use in a delicious way! Full of traditional pesto flavors from garlic, basil, Parmesan cheese, and lemon, this easy homemade pesto also has added spinach and is made with almonds instead of pine nuts! Perfect to mix with pasta, spoon over grilled meats and fish, or to add a veggie-loaded twist to homemade pizzas.

Ingredients
 

  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound zucchini , (about 2 medium), ends removed, cut in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 cup packed baby spinach
  • ½ cup packed basil leaves
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Instructions
 

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes.
  • Turn the heat down to medium, then stir in the garlic and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until the garlic is lightly toasted and the zucchini is well browned, another 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the cooked zucchini the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Allow the zucchini to cool until just warm. (You could also do this part ahead of time and allow the zucchini to cool fully before making the pesto.).
  • Once the zucchini is cool, add the spinach, basil, nuts, parmesan, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.
  • Blend until creamy and mostly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Taste and add more salt and/or lemon juice as you’d like. Use the pesto right away or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.

Notes

How to use the pesto:
  • Toss with your favorite cooked pasta to use as a sauce. For pasta salad, whisk a little extra olive oil into the pesto then use as the dressing.
  • The pesto can be used as a spread in a sandwich or for the sauce on the base of a pizza.
  • You can also use the pesto as a dip for raw veggies and crackers.
 
Adaptations 
  • You can make this pesto nut-free by replacing the nuts with seeds such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
  • For a dairy-free pesto, leave out the parmesan cheese and add additional salt to taste. The pesto will still be delicious without the cheese.
  • Toast the nuts for a deeper flavor. You can toast nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, (watching them carefully) until they are golden brown.
Calories: 137kcal, Carbohydrates: 6g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 11g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6g, Trans Fat: 0.002g, Cholesterol: 7mg, Sodium: 447mg, Potassium: 309mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 798IU, Vitamin C: 17mg, Calcium: 117mg, Iron: 1mg