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Pasta with Turkey and Zucchini

Hello! It’s great you’re here today. I have a simple pasta recipe that is creamy, yet light and full of savory flavor. We are using ground or minced turkey, with my favorite way of making a light cheesy sauce with butter and Parmesan. The zucchini is tender, not mushy and the whole thing comes together to make a satisfying, quick meal, perfect for a weeknight. It’s Pasta with Turkey and Zucchini – let’s get to it!

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This recipe is a perfect example of getting creative in the kitchen. I have said this before, once you master the technique of making a light and creamy sauce with butter, cheese and pasta water, a whole world of pasta dishes opens up for you. I have used this technique many times here and, in its most basic form it’s, The Easiest Pasta with Butter and Cheese. Any combination you want to try, whether you’re shopping for it specially, or you just need to use up some veggies, the light and creamy sauce will go with anything you can imagine.

Easy Prep

I have about 1 cup of diced onion; I am going heavy on the garlic with 4 cloves minced, 4 tablespoons butter, fresh thyme, 1 pound ground turkey, 2 small zucchinis, and about 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan. And 12 ounces of Casarecce pasta. You can use Penne, if you can’t find Casarecce.

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Get a pot of water set to boil with 3 quarts of water, covered. While that is getting going let’s get a skillet going over medium-high heat with the ground turkey. You can use chicken, pork or beef. Since the turkey is pretty lean, I am going to help it out with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook the ground meat, breaking it up as it cooks.

Once the meat is cooked through, add the onion. Give the onions and turkey a sprinkling of kosher salt. Sauté and stir occasionally until the onion softens. Then add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon or so of fresh thyme. Stir and sauté until the thyme is fragrant.

Add the minced or pressed garlic and stir to combine. As soon as the garlic becomes fragrant (about 30 seconds) turn the heat to medium-low.

Slice up the zucchini into half moons. I did a variety of thicknesses because I like the variety in texture. Some of the zucchini will be tender, some soft and some a little more snappy. So I have a range of thickness from 1/8 to 1/4-inch. Add the sliced zucchini to the pan with the meat and aromatics. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir the zucchini into the meat mixture and keep the heat on low or medium/low. Stir occasionally as we turn our attention to the pasta. Taste the meat and zucchini mixture along the way for seasoning. Add more kosher salt if needed.

Pasta!

By now the water should be boiling. Add 1.5 tablespoons of kosher salt to the pot, stir and then pour in the pasta. Set a timer for 9 minutes. Give it a stir every now and then to prevent sticking. At the nine minute mark, test the doneness, it should be just shy of al dente. Scoop out 1 cup of pasta water and set aside. Then drain the pasta, but don’t shake the colander to get the excess water off.

Set the burner to low and add the butter to the now-empty pasta pot. Add the drained pasta to the pot. Then add the grated Parmesan. Pour in about 1/4 cup of the reserved hot pasta water. Vigorously stir the pasta with the butter, cheese and pasta water until the cheese and butter are melted and the starchy pasta water has emulsified the mixture into a light creamy sauce coating the pasta.

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Then add the zucchini and meat mixture to the pasta. Stir together to fully combine. Add more hot pasta water as needed to keep the sauce glossy and smooth. Once we add the meat and zucchini, the sauce will become even lighter as it coats the zucchini and turkey.

Cut the heat and we are ready to serve.

Pasta with Turkey and Zucchini

Serve in a wide shallow bowl and drizzle each serving with a little olive oil and add a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. You can sprinkle on any extra fresh thyme too. If you want to skip the added Parmesan, sprinkle with a little flaky finishing salt.

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The Pasta with Butter and Cheese recipe is a perfect springboard for meals like this Pasta with Turkey and Zucchini. Super easy, light, fresh, and quick. If using butter (or other fat) with Parmesan and starchy pasta cooking water isn’t already old hat to you, try this recipe, practice the method and get creative with your mix-ins! Take care and be well, xo Kelly

Key Equipment

Pasta with Turkey and Zucchini

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Dinner, Main Course Italian
By Kelly Djalali Serves: 2-4
Prep Time: 10 Minutes Cooking Time: ~20 Minutes Total Time: ~30 Minutes

Pasta with Turkey and Zucchini is lightly creamy with butter and Parmesan, savory with ground turkey, tender zucchini, garlic and fresh thyme.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Ground Turkey (or chicken, beef or pork)
  • Drizzle Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Small Onion, diced
  • Kosher Salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4-1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 tsp. Fresh Thyme
  • 3-5 Cloves Garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 small, or 1 large Zucchini, sliced into half moons 1/8-1/4-inch thick
  • Black Pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp. Kosher Salt (for the pasta water)
  • 12 oz. Casarecce or Penne Pasta
  • 4 tbsp. Unsalted Butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese, plus more for garnish
  • Flaky Finishing Salt, optional instead of the grated parmesan

Instructions

1

Get a pot of water set to boil with 3 quarts of water, covered. While that is getting going let's get a skillet going over medium-high heat with the ground turkey. Since the turkey is pretty lean, I am going to help it out with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook the ground meat, breaking it up as it cooks.

2

Once the meat is cooked through, add the onion. Give the onions and turkey a sprinkling of kosher salt. Sauté and stir occasionally until the onion softens. Then add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon or so of fresh thyme. Stir and sauté until the thyme is fragrant.

3

Add the minced or pressed garlic and stir to combine. As soon as the garlic becomes fragrant (about 30 seconds) turn the heat to medium-low.

4

Add the sliced zucchini to the pan with the meat and aromatics. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir the zucchini into the meat mixture and keep the heat on low or medium/low. Stir occasionally as we turn our attention to the pasta. Taste the meat and zucchini mixture along way for seasoning. Add more kosher salt if needed.

5

By now the water should be boiling. Add 1.5 tablespoons of kosher salt to the pot, stir and then pour in the pasta. Set a timer for 9 minutes. Give it a stir every now and then to prevent sticking. At the nine minute mark, test the doneness, it should be just shy of al dente. Scoop out 1 cup of pasta water and set aside. Then drain the pasta, but don't shake the colander to get the excess water off.

6

Set the burner to low and add the butter to the now-empty pasta pot. Add the drained pasta to the pot. Then add the grated Parmesan. Pour in about 1/4 cup of the reserved hot pasta water. Vigorously stir the pasta with the butter, cheese and pasta water until the cheese and butter are melted and the starchy pasta water has emulsified the mixture into a light creamy sauce coating the pasta.

7

Then add the zucchini and meat mixture to the pasta. Stir together to fully combine. Add more hot pasta water as needed to keep the sauce glossy and smooth. Once we add the meat and zucchini, the sauce will become even lighter as it coats the zucchini and turkey.

8

Cut the heat and we are ready to serve. Serve in a wide shallow bowl and drizzle each serving with a little olive oil and add a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. You can sprinkle on any extra fresh thyme too. If you want to skip the added Parmesan, sprinkle with a little flaky finishing salt.

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  • Mari
    September 29, 2022 at 8:37 am

    This is the time of year when people still have an over abundance of Zucchini in their gardens, and this is a great way to dispose of it, other than muffins, breads and cakes. Those re all good ways to get some veggies into the kids, and husbands, if anyone has a husband like mine was. If vegetables were in a serving dish he ignored them. I took to putting a serving on his plate. He always gave me a reproachful look, but he did eat them. This would have been a. easier sell I think! It’s a nice way to ease into fall when appetites get heartier, and a nice way for me to get rid of the backlog of pasta I seem to have accumulated. When I see what I like on sale, I tend to buy several boxes. Amazon had Pasta Corte on sale a few months ago, and I bought it by the case. I think I have enough to last until next summer. In my defense, I like the shape, and it was unavailable for more than a year, so when I saw it, I pounced. I was. Wry pleased with myself until it was delivered, and I had to find places to put it. The entertainment stand has a lot of storage spaces, and there are little doors to hide it. 😉
    Stay safe and God bless everyone who is in Ian’s path. I really intensely dislike hurricane and tornado season. Last night on the Weather Channel, they said that over a million homes were without electricity. We experienced that for 12 hours this past summer, and it was difficult, but we knew they would get it fixed before too long. I can’t imagine days without it. As always you are all in our thoughts and prayers. Stay safe.
    How is it Thursday already?! At any rate, happy Thursday to our Djalalis and Terry. If you need anything, we are here.

    • Kelly Djalali
      September 29, 2022 at 9:54 am

      Thank you so much Mari! We are still quite away from the storm here in Athens, but as I write this, we are having strong wind gusts, so that’s interesting. I am like you in that I tend to buy bags and boxes of pasta every time I come across an interesting shape. Dried pasta keeps well, and I know it will eventually get used. So I don’t mind. Have a great Thursday and I will see you tomorrow. xo Kelly

  • Terry
    September 29, 2022 at 2:21 pm

    First of let me say I love the pasta you used. I too buy different shapes all the time… I will make this dish going grocery shopping tomorrow I’ll keep you posted 🤗❤️mom

    • Kelly Djalali
      September 29, 2022 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Mom, isn’t that a fun shape? I hope you can find it locally. If not, penne is a good substitute. I am sure you’ll enjoy it! xo Kelly

  • Julie
    September 30, 2022 at 8:17 am

    Hi Kelly, first time I’ve commented. Fixed this pasta dish last night and my whole family absolutely loved it. I didn’t have turkey so used ground chicken and unfortunately where I live the pasta choices aren’t that great so used rigatoni but turned out excellent none the less.

    • Kelly Djalali
      September 30, 2022 at 8:38 am

      Hi Julie, Wonderful! I am so happy this recipe was a hit with your family. Rigatoni is one of my favorite shapes and it’s a great substitute shape. Thank you so much for writing in to let us know your success with this recipe! Have a great weekend, xo Kelly