If you could close your eyes and dream of a summer pasta on a plate, it would be this Lemon Brown Butter Pasta with Zucchini. We take perfect little ears (literally translated) of orecchiette and toss them in a lemon-infused brown butter sauce, plenty of garlic, parmesan, and then toss it with sautéed asparagus and zucchini. For a little extra indulgence, we tear apart a big ball of burrata cheese and scatter it on top. It’s the perfect combination of nutty, salty, creamy, and delicious!
Lemon Brown Butter Pasta with Zucchini
And asparagus! And burrata! But seriously, if I could make the title of this pasta Epically Delicious Brown Butter Pasta with Zucchini, Asparagus, and Burrata, I would. Because each and every one of those ingredients makes a very pronounced and center-stage appearance in this super easy summer pasta.
Today’s pasta is also very reminiscent of another summery pasta we shared a few years back with zucchini squash noodles, creamy ricotta, and of course, plenty of brown butter. It’s one of our very favorites, so I decided to change it up a little bit to include some of my favorite summer veggies and one of the kids’ favorite pastas – orecchiette.
Even though I often associate brown butter dishes with the cooler months (This wintery ravioli is one of our favorites), they still make a very frequent appearance in our kitchen throughout the summer time. I find that in addition to heartier vegetables like butternut squash and mushrooms, brown butter also pairs really nicely with many spring and summery vegetables – especially the green ones like woodsy asparagus, zucchini, and one of my favorite farmer’s market finds – squash blossoms.
It also helps that while it is, yes, butter, it’s actually much lighter than a traditional cream sauce which can weigh you down in the warmer months.
We also add in plenty of lemon juice and lemon zest to brighten up the nutty brown butter, and the combination of the four – the brown butter, lemon, zucchini, and asparagus – is really quite magical. Let’s get started!
Ingredients in Lemon Brown Butter Pasta with Zucchini
Butter. Obviously, as the title implies, butter is very important to this dish. Browning butter take it from delicious, to out of this world. Here, we first sauté the vegetables in plain, unsalted butter, and then we brown the butter to make the sauce.
Zucchini and asparagus. While you could use any combination of summer veggies, I really love the combination of zucchini and asparagus. Broccoli would also be lovely, as would spinach or any other leafy green. Of course, you can adapt this recipe to suit any season, so in the winter, I’d use hearty mushrooms, sweet potatoes, or any kind of winter squash.
Garlic. Lots of garlic! We use two very large cloves, but you could also use three small cloves.
Lemon. We use lemon two ways. First, we use the juice in the sauce. Second, we add in the lemon zest along with the parmesan and pasta water right at the end for a little more mild lemon essence.
Orecchiette. I love the way the “little ears” of orecchiette catch puddles of the brown butter and bits of garlic. It’s one of my favorite pastas to use when I want something a little bit lighter, and I want to be sure the kids will eat it. You could also swap out campanelle, large bells or shells.
Parmesan. In this particular recipe, you really want to use parmigiano reggiano, it’s the best for a reason. It’s nuttiness matches up perfectly with the brown butter, and it just clings to the pasta noodles like nothing else. If you HAVE to, you can also use an aged parmesan cheese, but it won’t melt as well. And please don’t use anything pre-shredded. You always want to use freshly shredded cheese, especially when it comes to parmesan.
Pasta water. Pasta water in another really important ingredient in our Lemon Brown Butter Pasta with Zucchini. Because we’d have to use A LOT of butter to create a creamy sauce, we like to add in a little bit of the starchy pasta cooking liquid to tie everything together.
Burrata. This is sort of superfluous, BUT when is burrata not appropriate? I love the way the creamy inside of the burrata seeps down the brown-butter dressed shells of the orecchiette, and adds even more creaminess and luxurious to the pasta. Do it.
Let’s make Brown Butter Pasta with Zucchini!
Sauté the veggies. Because I really want the veggies to sauté and not steam, I cook them up in two batches. Both with just a little bit of butter, and over a pretty high heat. I like for the edges to get a little bit brown and charred. And keep in mind, you really don’t need to cook them long, 3 minutes, max is all they need to they will continue to cook when we toss everything together.
Add a little bit of butter to a large, hot skillet. Add in the asparagus and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute until bright green and slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan. Repeat the process with the zucchini.
Brown the butter. Add butter to the same pan. Once the butter melts and starts to turn brown on the edges, start to swirl the pan. Continue to swirl the pan until the butter is a deep brown color and smells very nutty. It should take about 3-4 minutes.
Immediately remove from the heat and add garlic. Cook for 30 seconds and add lemon juice and another 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Return the heat to flame and reduce to low. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits at the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside until the pasta is done cooking.
Cook the pasta. Once the veggies are done sautéing, drop the pasta in the boiling water. Cook until just under aldente. The reason I like to wait to cook the pasta until the veggies are done cooking, is to ensure the pasta doesn’t overcook.
Toss everything together. Use a slotted spoon or sieve to transfer the cooked pasta to the butter and lemon juice. Return the pan to a low heat and toss the pasta with the butter until it’s completely coated. Add in a little bit of pasta water and the parmesan cheese. Continue to toss until the cheese has coated the noodles and has melted.
Add the veggies back to the pasta, toss everything together and add more pasta water if needed. You just want the pasta to be ever-so-slightly saucy.
Dish everything up, dot with burrata and enjoy!
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Use your favorite summer veggies! Corn off the cob would be lovely, squash blossom, eggplant – really anything. If you’re reading this six months from now, and it’s the dead of winter, try swapping out more seasonal ingredients such as Brussels sprouts or butternut squash.
- Be sure to keep a close eye on the brown butter, while you DO want a deep brown color, you don’t want it to burn.
- The butter WILL spatter when you add the lemon juice, so be careful! I like to take the pan off the heat and then add the lemon juice to avoid getting splattered with hot butter.
- If you like a cheesiest pasta, add more. Because there is never anything wrong with a little bit more cheese.
- Don’t forget to save that pasta water! Without it, the brown butter pasta with zucchini won’t be creamy, it will stick together.
- If garlic is your thing, add more. Just like parmesan, you can never have too much garlic.
- When you add your veggies to the pan to sauté, try not to move them until they get a nice caramelization on them.
Other awesome summer pastas you might enjoy
- Lemon Orzo Salad with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: While this isn’t meant to be a pasta entree, it could be! It’s packed with creamy goat cheese, sweet cherry tomatoes, and light orzo. So yummy.
- This 5-ingredient Cherry Tomato Linguine with Ricotta is creamy, light, and so good.
- This Summer Pasta with Brown Butter is PACKED with flavor and so many good things. From zucchini, to squash, to tons of parmesan cheese, this easy pasta is a winner.
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 cups chopped asparagus
- 1 large zucchini, roughly chopped (about 3 cups)
- 1 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 lb orecchiette
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup pasta water
- 8 oz burrata
- Large skillet
- large pot
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season liberally with salt, it should taste almost as salty as the sea.
- Heat a large skillet with high sides to a medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Once the butter melts, add the asparagus and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute until bright green and slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan. Add another 2 teaspoons butter and 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the pan. Add zucchini and another 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute the zucchini until caramelized and slightly softened, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from skillet and keep with asparagus.
- Once the veggies have cooked, drop the pasta into the water while you brown the butter. Give it a stir and cook until aldente. Reserve the pasta water.
- Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter to the skillet. Once the butter melts and starts to turn brown on the edges, start to swirl the pan. Continue to swirl the pan until the butter turns a deep brown color and smells nutty. Once the butter is brown, add the garlic and 1/4 tsp salt, cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. BE CAREFUL, it will spatter so do it slowly. Stir or whisk to combine. Put back on the heat and simmer for 30 seconds, remove from the heat until the pasta is done cooking.
- When the pasta is aldente, use a slotted spoon to transfer to the pasta to the butter and lemon juice. Toss to combine. Add the remaining salt, parmesan, and lemon zest. Toss until the cheese starts to coat the noodles and melt. Drizzle in the pasta water. Stir to combine. Add the veggies back to the pasta and stir until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Tear the burrata in pieces and serve on top of the pasta.