Butternut Zucchini Pesto Pasta

Butternut zucchini pesto pasta is a perfect celebration of the transition from summer to fall. It features roasted butternut squash and zucchini, as well as a peppery arugula pesto.

Pasta shells are dressed with freshly made pesto and tossed together with arugula, roasted butternut squash, and zucchini. They rest on a serving plate with a cloth napkin nearby.

It’s been cool enough in New York this week that I can begin to indulge my love of fall cooking. I’m not quite ready for bowls of soup or cinnamon-scented baking projects. But neither of those is very far off!

In the meantime, I am ready to embrace winter squash, crispy apples, and other harbingers of September.

This butternut zucchini pesto pasta has lots of sweet notes from the roasted vegetables. Yet it’s brightened by the lemon and garlic of fresh pesto and the crisp bite of raw arugula.

Vegan Pesto for all Seasons

One of my favorite things about pesto is it’s adaptability. I love the flavor of basil in my go-to, classic vegan pesto. However, I also love to use other herbs in place of, or along with, basil. For example, cilantro makes a wonderful pesto, if you’re in the cilantro lovers club.

Sometimes I use pesto as a vehicle for greens along with herbs. I happen to have a lot of arugula right now, some of which went into the pasta salad itself, and some of which was thrown into my food processor along with a fistful of basil leaves.

Ditto for the nuts: I’ve used walnuts, pine nuts, and hemp seeds to make pesto. I used what I had, which was sunflower seeds, for this batch.

While I usually use olive oil as a pesto base, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with tahini as well. My tahini pesto is now a favorite, especially for pasta salad or as a sandwich spread.

If you prefer not to use oil in pesto, you can substitute that recipe to make the butternut zucchini pesto pasta.

A plate of vegan butternut zucchini pesto pasta, with a soft cloth napkin lying nearby.

Best Pasta for Butternut Zucchini Pesto Pasta

Just as I like to experiment with different pesto varieties, I also love trying new pastas. I tend to use regular wheat pasta as my go-to. However, I appreciate some of the new legume-based pastas for their ability to add plant protein to meals.

I used Chickapea pasta in this recipe. It’s made with chickpeas and lentils, and it has a great texture in spite of being a non-traditional option. You could use another legume pasta, rice pasta, or whole wheat pasta in the recipe.

As for pasta shape, the choice is yours! I loved using shells when I made my butternut zucchini pesto pasta. Their sturdiness allows them to hold their own alongside the cubes of roasted vegetables. And they collect extra bits of the pesto. You’ll have the same effect if you use rotini, rigatoni or penne.

Prepping and Storing Butternut Zucchini Pesto Pasta

This is an easy meal to make ahead by roasting your vegetables and preparing the pesto ahead of time. It’s my preference to serve the butternut zucchini pesto pasta cold, so I usually do roast the vegetables a day in advance and then chill them.

Sometimes I cook the pasta ahead of time, too. Make ahead pasta is one of my favorite tricks for batch cooking, and I don’t even think much oil is necessary for it to work!

On the other hand, if you prefer to serve the salad warm, you can combine everything right when the pasta and vegetables are ready. The arugula will become a little wilted, which can be nice.

On the other hand, if you want the arugula to stay crispy, keep everything cold and then toss the ingredients together a few hours before serving.

Leftover pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

A zoomed in photograph of a plate of pasta shells made with roasted vegetables, arugula, and pesto sauce.

Butternut Zucchini Pesto Pasta | The Full Helping
5 from 12 votes

Roasted Butternut Squash, Zucchini & Arugula Pesto Pasta Salad

Author - Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 pound/450 grams after preparation)
  • 1 medium zucchini (about 12 ounces/340 grams), ends trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) neutral vegetable oil, such as grapeseed, safflower, or refined avocado
  • 2 handfuls regular or baby arugula, roughly chopped if the leaves are big
  • 8 ounces (240 g) pasta shells (or another shape of choice)

For the arugula pesto:

  • 3/4 cup (24 g) packed arugula
  • 3/4 cup (20 g) packed basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup (50 g) hulled sunflower seeds, pine nuts, or walnut pieces
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (to taste)
  • 5 tablespoons (75 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (10 g) nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C) and line two baking sheets with parchment or foil. Place the butternut squash in a mixing bowl and toss it with 1 tablespoon of the neutral oil, then transfer it to one of the baking sheets. Toss the zucchini pieces with the remaining tablespoon oil, then transfer them to the other baking sheet. Season the squash and zucchini with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, then transfer both baking sheets to the oven. Roast the zucchini for 25-30 minutes, or until tender and browning. Roast the squash for 40 minutes, or until the squash is fork tender and browning at the edges.
  • While the vegetables roast, make the pesto. Place all ingredients into a food processor and process till the pesto is relatively smooth, but some pieces of the seeds are still visible. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, lemon, and nutritional yeast to taste.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the shells according to package instructions. When the pasta is ready, transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the roasted butternut squash and zucchini, then the raw arugula. Add the pesto, using just enough to coat all of the pasta and vegetables well (if you have a couple tablespoons leftover, you can save them for topping roasted vegetables, salads, bowls, polenta, or other pasta dishes, or you can freeze them in an ice cube tray!). Taste the pasta salad and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve.

Notes

Pesto will yield about 3/4 cup, or 180 milliliters. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 6 weeks. 

Roasted winter squash and zucchini are mixed with pasta and fresh arugula, along with pesto sauce, for a colorful plate of food.

The butternut zucchini pesto pasta is perfect for lunch gatherings, picnics, or potlucks. The ingredients will be seasonal well through early fall.

My favorite thing about this recipe is that the leftovers keep well for at least a couple of day. So it’s perfect for back-to-school packed lunches, my own included.

Speaking of that, I’ve got a busy week ahead. I’ll be preparing for my own transition back to school. With any luck, it’ll be offset with plenty of therapeutic home cooking. See you for the usual roundup this weekend!

xo

This post is sponsored by Chickapea pasta. All opinions are my own, and I’m loving these nutrient-dense vegan pastas. Thanks for your support!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Visit my privacy policy to learn more.

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    30 Comments
  1. 5 stars
    I just made this for dinner and it is simply fantastic! My quest for basil today was unsuccessful so I made a full-arugula version of the pesto and it was delicious! This was my first experience with chickpea pasta and I have to say I still prefer the rice pasta I usually buy, so I think next time I make this I will try it with rice pasta instead. And I’ll load up on the squash and zucchini, since I like my pasta salads with lots of vegetables. Thanks for a great recipe! I’d been looking for some inspiration to change up what I usually cook and this was a great way to do that 🙂

  2. I just made this today (with regular wheat conchiglie pasta) and it was absolutely delicious! Thanks for a great recipe.

  3. Soooo good. We loved it!! I added some fresh corn – it was a good choice. Thanks so much for this one.

  4. I’ve been holding out on buying squash at the store since I’m overwhelmed with CSA tomatoes at the moment, but seeing this post makes me even more happy and excited for this next season ahead. What a wonderful recipe for the transition between summer and fall, and also looks perfect for packing in lunch boxes. 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    I made this for dinner tonight and it was fabulous! I love how the arugula and the vegetables really lightened up the pasta.

  6. Great combination! I love butternut squash, it’s one of my favourite autumn and winter flavours, and who doesn’t love courgettes and rocket? Lovely recipe.

  7. 5 stars
    That sounds super tasty, I have yet to see pumpkin in the stores yet but the ones in our garden are looking fab although not ripe to use just yet… Not far off though 🙂

  8. Ah man, this recipe is definitely getting me in the mood for Autumn 🙂 Love the combination of flavours… can’t wait to try it.

  9. 5 stars
    This is such a beautiful dish, Gena! I am a big arugula fan, and a big pesto fan– I do the same as you, throw whatever greens and nuts I have one hand. I make a batch almost every week and we use it for all sorts of things. And yay for butternut season!

  10. Can’t get that particular brand here in the UK but you’ve opened my eyes to a world of chickpea pasta shells that I’m ready to get involved with! Thanks Gena

  11. 5 stars
    As a professional food blogger I’m always looking for new inspiration. What I love about this recipe is that it’s healthy, delicious, and seasonal. Can’t wait to make it!

  12. 5 stars
    This pasta salad looks absolutely delicious and perfect for fall! Putting it on my to-make list as we speak!!!

  13. 5 stars
    Greens and golds….. so pretty to look at and SO TASTY to eat! Cannot wait to try this healthy pasta dish flecked with delicious chickapea pasta! I love every ingredient here.

  14. This is simply the yummiest way to say good bye to summer and hello fall comfort food! Love the diverse flavours here, Gena. Perfect for the kids’ lunches too. And next week is #OrganicWeek. Sharing 🙂