This just might be my favorite quick summer dinner. And with a mix of flavors that take me all the way to Italy. This lemon ricotta zucchini pasta comes together very quickly. It is made with a 30-second ricotta sauce, quick sautéed zucchini and pasta of your choice. A sprinkle of Parmesan and basil on top make it extra delicious, while still keeping the dish surprisingly light. 

Lemon ricotta zucchini pasta

Sometimes the easiest dinners are truly the best ones and pasta is as easy as it gets. Sure, I love breakfast for dinner (like peach waffles, hello) or a good, hearty sandwich (halloumi BLT please). But if we’re talking savory, cooked meals, you can’t go wrong with pasta. Especially not something like this lemon ricotta zucchini pasta with jammy zucchinis and creamy ricotta sauce. 

This is the kind of dish that is as simple as it is impressive. And it only takes about 30 minutes to make from start to finish.

As your pasta is boiling, you are making your sauce. And then with a few folds, stirs and taste tests, all the components come together in one big bowl that you can just put straight on the table. Add some fresh basil and people won’t know what hit them! Also don’t forget the wine.

serving bowl with ricotta pasta with basil and wine in a glass next to it
Lemon ricotta zucchini pasta

The 3 key components of this ricotta pasta:

Zucchini or yellow squash 

I love zucchini but yellow squash is really delicious too. All you do is slice it very thinly and sauté it in olive oil, together with shallots and garlic. Letting some bits brown will give you even more flavor. 

My mom kind of made it a rule to brown onions and I always do that. 

Zucchini softens pretty quickly and in the end you’ll get a somewhat jammy, chunky mix of torn up pieces of zucchini, mixed into onions. That alone honestly tastes so good, you could just eat it on some toast. 

sliced raw zucchini
raw rigatoni pasta

mixing bowl with ricotta, black pepper and lemon zest on top
creamy ricotta sauce

30-second ricotta pasta sauce 

This has got to be one of my favorite sauces. It is refreshing and comforting at the same time. And it leaves room for additions, which I adore. So if you’re not in the mood for zucchini, you can sauté some tomatoes or peppers and ricotta will take care of the rest. 

This sauce is made with:

  • ricotta cheese 

I get mine from the dairy section at the grocery store, which is the easiest place to get ricotta. But you can use any kind of ricotta you want. Homemade or fresh from the cheese counter (like at an Italian deli), if you have access to that. In fact if you’re doing that, you could also grab some fresh pasta and make this recipe super next-level. 

  • lemons

This is what makes the sauce super resfreshing. A mix of (organic) lemon zest and lemon juice. You can use both or one of the two. Make sure to use a zester for zest to keep the flakes as tiny as possible. 

deep plate with cooked rigatoni pasta mixed with white ricotta sauce
  • Parmesan cheese

I use Parmigiano Reggiano but any parmesan-type of cheese will work. A small amount of this adds really good flavor and saltiness to the sauce. 

  • pasta cooking water

This is the key ingredient! Hot, boiling pasta water transforms all of the aforementioned ingredients into a creamy, delicious sauce in a matter of seconds. 

  • salt and pepper

As with any sauce, these two ingredients are very important. Add according to your taste. And always salt lightly! You can add more, but if you throw a bunch of salt in, it’s hard to fix it. 

large serving bowl with Lemon ricotta zucchini pasta


I like short pasta for this zucchini pasta dish, especially something like rigatoni. They are hollow in the middle, which is great for soaking up extra sauce. And also larger than ziti or elbows, so very easy to grab with a fork. 

I always describe rigatoni as meaty pasta, just because of the size. I just think they work so well with a sauce that’s more delicate in flavor.  

close view of basil and cheese atop pasta mixed with ricotta
a serving of Lemon ricotta zucchini pasta with basil and grated cheese on top

So go, travel to Italy for a second (or 30 minutes) and make this lemon ricotta zucchini pasta. Even though this is a pasta based dish that doesn’t skip on the cheese, it’s surprisingly light tasting. A mix of ricotta and lemon make it resfreshing and browned zucchini add flavor in a healthy way. 

lemon ricotta zucchini pasta
lemon ricotta zucchini pasta


Lemon ricotta zucchini pasta

A surprisingly light and flavor-packed pasta, done in 30 minutes.
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 3


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 pound zucchini ends trimmed and sliced thinly
  • 9 oz pasta of choice such as rigatoni, penne, fusilli, etc.
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest optional, add to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice more to taste
  • sea salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
For serving
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil leaves


  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add shallots and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add garlic, stir and sauté for about a minute, just until fragrant.
  • Add the zucchini and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until zucchini is soft. If it’s sticking to the pan, lower the heat and add a few tablespoons of water. When cooked remove from heat.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the pasta and cook for 10-15 minutes (follow your package directions). Reserve 2 cups of pasta water for later and drain the pasta. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Pour over some of the pasta water, about 2/3 cup, and stir to combine. Keep adding pasta water until you have a creamy sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Add pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. Fold ricotta-covered pasta into your zucchini. Keep stirring until it’s evenly mixed. 
  • Serve with extra Parmesan on top and fresh basil. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a day.


  • If you don’t want to use real Parmigiano Reggiano, use any parmesan-style cheese instead.
  • This recipe serves 2-3 people very comfortably (with possible leftovers), but can be served to 4 people. Especially if you include other things in your meal (like appetizers, sides, dessert). 

Recipe first published in August 2016, revised and updated in September 2020.

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  1. Richard Kennedy says:

    Would you add lemon juice (how much) for an enhanced lemon taste?

    1. Alice says:

      Hi Richard, you can definitely add lemon juice!

      Add it to ricotta before you stir in pasta water. I’d start with one teaspoon and build from there.

      Other ways to add flavor would be to douse cooked pasta in lemon juice before you add the ricotta mixture.

      You can also squeeze a lemon over the finished dish.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Sarah Davies says:

    Hi! This looks great, do you think you could add spinach and/or peas? If you think so, at what stage would this be best?

    1. Alice (author) says:

      Hi Sarah,
      yes I think both peas and spinach would be really lovely in this. You can add both, or one of the two, to the zucchini once that looks mostly done. If using both, add peas first and let them cook for 2 minutes, then add the spinach and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

      And then just put everything together as suggested in the recipe.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Shahnaz Radjy says:

    5 stars
    Tried this last night and loved it! Didn’t even measure ingredients out (which is my usual approach, I admit), and it came out scrumptious… but even yummier as cold leftovers for lunch. Yummmm slash thank you! Ps wish you were on instagram

    1. Alice (author) says:

      Thank you so much! I love it cold too 🙂

      and my instagram is @sugarsalted 🙂