If you like quick, easy recipes (and want more veggies in your life), try our 20-minute Penne Pesto with Zucchini, Bacon, and Walnuts! Featuring freshly-prepared pesto, this is super simple dish tastes heavenly while remaining guilt-free. Just 5 minutes of prep time, and 20 minutes of cook time. Finish it off with a fresh squeeze of bright lemon, along with a sprinkle of nutty parmesan cheese, and you have one impressive (not to mention easy) meal ready to serve!
20-minute Penne Pesto with Zucchini, Bacon, and Walnuts
We are always trying to find fun new ways to incorporate veggies into our meals. This one is a prime example! Poor zucchini doesn’t get enough love, which is a shame because it’s actually pretty amazeballs. And if you are really trying to fit those green vegetables into your diet, why not upgrade this recipe even more? This penne pesto would be great served with an arugula salad, or topped with diced avocado – or hell, why not both if you’re trying to be all about that green veggie life!
Penne + Pesto: A quick Note
If you already have your favorite, tried-and-true method for making pesto, it can be easily be incorporated into this recipe. Also, if you like your pasta really “pesto-ey”, you can double the pesto recipe and adjust to taste from there, storing any leftover pesto for another use. And yes “Pesto-ey” is a definitely a word so please don’t bother correcting us and let’s just move on ok. Personally speaking, our go-to pesto recipe is an adaptation of the ‘traditional pesto method’ found in the book (affiliate link)"How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman. Actually, that is not a book so much as it is a cooking BIBLE. (We highly recommend that book for anybody who wants to learn more about cooking methodology.)
20-minute Penne Pesto: The Game Plan
Hands-on cooking time for this recipe is 20 minutes. BUT, be sure to have all ingredients prepped and assembled prior to jumping in, which should take you all of 3 minutes and 52 seconds in prep time. Yes, we are going to time you. Ok, now let’s jump in to the game plan for this recipe! While pasta water heats up, you are going to toast the walnuts, and start on the pesto. Look at those time-management skillzzz you got there, very impressive.
Once pasta goes in to the boiling water, keep working feverishly on the pesto, making it your ultimate goal in life to finish before the first pasta timer is up (you’ve got 7 minutes)! If you are unable to beat the buzzer, don’t worry- you still have time to finish the pesto before the second pasta timer is up (4 minutes)! You will find that turning recipes into a competition with yourself is actually quite satisfying. Or maybe that’s just us….
ALSO: one more note. We straight-up used bacon bits from a pouch for this recipe because we are lazy AF sometimes, but you could easily make/crumble REAL bacon without adding on to the recipe’s cooking time. Just heat oven to 375, throw a few bacon slices on a cookie sheet, & cook for 15-20 minutes while the pasta is doing its thing on the stovetop. Drain, crumble, and feel better about yourself as a human for not using bacon bits from a pouch…)
Just 5 minutes of prep time and 20 minutes of cook time translates into a quick, easy penne pesto recipe featuring zucchini, bacon, and walnuts. A healthy bowl of happiness!
- (1) 8 oz. box penne pasta (can use gluten-free penne if desired)
- (1) LARGE zucchini, trimmed, cut into half-moons (halve zucchini lengthwise, halve again, then cut on slight diagonal to form half-moons)
- 2 cups fresh basil, loosely packed (stems removed)
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving if desired (note: shredded parmesan cheese not recommended)
- 3/4 cup raw walnuts
- 1/4 cup crumbled bacon
- Pinch of salt
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Fill a large pot with water (enough for penne & zucchini to boil together) and place on high heat. While water heats up, toast the walnuts.
- To toast walnuts: Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add walnuts, stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes, or until just browned and toasted. Remove from pan and cool.
- Once water is boiling, add penne. Set kitchen timer for 7 minutes. While pasta is boiling, make the pesto.
- To make the pesto: Combine basil, garlic cloves, pine nuts, a pinch of salt, and half of the olive oil (1/4 cup) in food processor. Stop to scrape down the sides of processor’s bowl when needed, then gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add parmesan cheese, stir to combine.
- After kitchen timer goes off and penne has boiled for 7 minutes, add zucchini to the pot of boiling pasta.
- Set kitchen timer again, this time for 4 minutes. While zucchini & pasta cook, chop the cooled walnuts.
- Once timer is done, remove pot from heat. Drain pasta & zucchini, return to pot. Add bacon, walnuts, and pesto to pot. Stir to combine, then transfer to serving bowls. Top your pesto penne dish with a bright squeeze of fresh lemon, and more parmesan cheese if desired. Enjoy!
- You can easily make freshly-prepared bacon strips to crumble up for this recipe, without adding on to the cook time at all. Preheat oven to 375, then begin on recipe. Throw a few bacon slices onto a cookie sheet & cook in oven for 15-20 minutes, as the pasta is doing its thing on the stovetop and the recipe is coming together. Drain bacon, cool slightly, crumble.
- Make sure to set kitchen timer as instructed in recipe. The penne pasta has a TOTAL cook time of 11 minutes, split into two steps (first step for 7 minutes and second step for 4 minutes). A timer will keep you on track and prevent over-cooking.
We really hope that you (and whoever you serve this to) get a satisfying kick out of this Penne Pesto with Zucchini, Bacon, and Walnuts! Please leave us a comment when you make it, we want to know what you think! And please like and share if you know somebody who would enjoy making this recipe!