Penne with Zucchini, fresh Herbs and Lemon Zest (or Preserved Lemon)

Yellow Summer Squash

Yellow Summer Squash

By Cat, Nov 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Summer squash such as zucchini, crook-neck, yellow squash and various patty-pan varieties are very abundant in the summertime. If you grow them in your garden, you know its hard to find enough people to to take your surplus off your hands!

If you buy them in the store, choose only Organic, or from a local grower you trust, because beginning with zucchini, the non-Organic varieties are likely GMO.

Penne with Zucchini, Fresh Herbs and Lemon Zest

This great vegetarian recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking (1), originally by Ellie Krieger. It is best made in the summer when the squash & herbs are fresh.

I’m learning how to use preserved lemon in the off-season, and I think it would be great to mince the rinsed preserved lemon peel instead of/in addition to fresh zest in this recipe. I also think sundried tomato would be a good addition to this dish, and will try that the next time I make this recipe.

You can also add 2 – 4 oz chicken breast per serving. See Chicken Variation below for details.

Serves 4.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 2 medium zucchini (8 oz each)
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh basil
  • 3 Tbsp Italian parsley (flat-leaf)
  • 2 – 6 tsp mint (I would start with the minimum)
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest plus optional ¼ of a preserved lemon.
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • Unrefined sea salt 
  • ¾ pound (12 oz) whole grain penne
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Equipment:
  • small bowl
  • large saucepan
  • 3-quart saucier

Chicken Variation: 

I like to add chicken for a complete meal

  • Allow 2 – 4 oz breast meat per serving (one small half-breast), brined.

Brine breast, then pat dry; slice about 1½” thick and lightly flour the pieces. Saute in the olive oil, browning lightly then push to one side of the pan to cook the garlic and then the zucchini. Then toss all together in the skillet before removing to bowl and finishing the recipe. See notes in Method, below.


  1. Prep: Wash zucchini, then cut in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into ¼” thick half moons (or if using patty-pan shaped squash, cut into ¼” thick wedges).
  2. Slice garlic.
  3. Chop the herbs and combine in small bowl for later.
  4. Grate zest; or, if using preserved lemon (¼), rinse well, then scoop out pulp and add to herbs. Finely mince the peel. Add zest/minced peel to herbs.
  5. Grate cheese into another small bowl.
  6. Pasta: Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat, adding salt after it comes to the boil. Add penne and cook al-dente according to package instructions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water.
  7. Meanwhile, heat oil in saucier over medium-high heat. [If adding chicken, brown lightly in oil before adding zucchini, etc.]. Cook zucchini, stirring occasionally until barely tender and just starting to brown. Add garlic, stir and cook until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes more.
  8. Remove from heat; stir in lemon zest (or minced preserved lemon peel), ¾ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper.
  9. Add cooked penne to zucchini mixture along with cheese, herbs, and reserved pulp of preserved lemons (if using). Toss to combine, adding reserved cooking water if needed to moisten the pasta.
  10. Serve.

Testing 8/30/11

  • I made a half-recipe as written with the following changes: used presered lemon & no lemon zest; used 6 oz brined chicken breast, cut in slices, floured and sauteed in hot oil before adding garlic and a bit of red onion followed by zucchini. Result: This was good, but the mint overwhelmed the flavor of the basil, so in future use less mint (I altered recipe accordingly. Also, not enough zing, so in future, use lemon zest even if use preserved lemon, OR use sundried tomatoes (in oil), chopped and added with zucchini.

Serving Suggestions

  • Fine Cooking recommends serving this with Marinated Tomatoes with Pickled Red Onions & Gorgonzola (2), which would add the ‘zest’ I missed when I tested the penne recipe.


  1. Fine Cooking recipe:
  2. Fine Cooking recipe: Marinated Tomatoes with Pickled Red Onions & Gorgonzola (

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