I went to the Olive Garden once.

I’m pretty sure that’s an offense that will get you shunned from all Italian American communities and family gatherings.  But I did it anyway.

I was in high school at the time. Young and stupid. Reckless with my intestines and taste buds.

One of my friends suggested that we go for an after school snack.  So we split an entree and one of those amazing never-ending bread bowls.  And gossiped.

I’ll do anything for gossip.  And for never-ending bread bowls.  True story.


I remember thinking that the food wasn’t half bad.

Then again, back then I also thought that I looked good with platinum blonde highlights.  And neon green leggings.

No comment.


Thankfully, my taste in food has gotten better.  (Although my taste in men has regressed.  Trade-off?  Perhaps.)

(I’ve also graduated to hot pink leggings.  Way better than neon green.  WAY. BETTER.)

I’d much rather eat real authentic Italian food, which is actually very vegetable-heavy and fresh flavored, than the over-processed over-salted over-cheesed meals that are served in most Italian-American restaurants.  Which is exactly the kind of response that Gourmet Game Changer Number 6 – Marcella Hazan – has been fighting to obtain from the American public for years.

Marcella is considered to be one of the foremost authority on Italian cuisine, and for good reason.  She broke Italian cooking down for the average person so that they felt confident cooking it at home rather than feeling compelled to buy a jar of Ragu, throw it over pasta, and call it an Italian dinner.

I rarely make cream sauces because of how they make me feel after I eat them (sluggish), but Marcella’s penne with creamy zucchini and basil sauce was not heavy or overbearing at all.  There was no roux to make it thick and heavy.  Just cream and some parmesan cheese, with basil sprinkled in for freshness.  Absolutely delicious.

For more Marcella, check out these sites, as these women are also cooking their way through Gourmet’s 50 Women Game Changers:
Viola – The Life is Good Kitchen
Kathleen – Bake Away with Me
Val – More Than Burnt Toast
Taryn – Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan – The Spice Garden
Claudia – A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather – girlichef
Miranda – Mangoes and Chutney
Katie – Making Michael Poland Proud
Mary – One Perfect Bite


Penne with Creamy Zucchini and Basil Sauce
Serves 5, adapted from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook

1 lb penne
2 lb zucchini
1/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste
a bunch of basil, chopped finely
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1. Set a large pot of SALTED water to a boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, wash and slice zucchini in strips.  Slice into strips the length of a tootsie roll, but skinnier.

3. Heat butter and olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and stir.  Before garlic starts to brown, add zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and starting to brown a bit.

4. Add cream.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let cook on medium-low heat until thickened a bit.  Let simmer until pasta is done.

5. Just before mixing with the pasta, stir basil into the sauce and turn off the heat.  Toss with pasta and parmesan cheese.

Looking for more pasta recipes that use zucchini?  Check these out:
Baked Zucchini Macaroni and Cheese
Homemade Linguine with Zucchini, Lemon, Capers and Pine Nuts
Ravioli with Brown Butter, Almonds and Zucchini
Zucchini Carbonara

I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights which is being hosted this week by Debbi of Debbi Does Dinner!


You are reading this post on Eats Well With Others at Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of Eats Well With Others. All rights reserved by Joanne Bruno.
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90 Responses to Marcella Hazan’s Penne with Creamy Zucchini and Basil Sauce

  1. I want this pasta dish immediately! Oh and I used to love the unlimited salad/bread sticks from Olive Garden, so good lol!

  2. Pierce says:

    If it has pasta I’m on it. With or without green leggings 🙂

  3. Candace says:

    Love this! Someone else who gets it! My family thinks that I hate pasta and that’s untrue. I hate HEAVY, cheese-laden pasta…the kind that makes me feel sick after eating it. Give me something full of veggies that is light and flavorful and I’m a happy girl. Something like this! Thank you for sharing another wonderful recipe. Have a beautiful weekend!

  4. Lea Ann says:

    Beautiful dish Joanne. Love that basil sauce. Another bookmarked.

  5. Sam says:

    You know, my Italian-American grandmother was always a big fan of the Olive Garden. She liked it almost as much as she liked Red Lobster. Needless to say, she was much more into Italian baking than Italian cooking.

    This looks fantastic. It’s making me not dread the zucchini that I’m sure will come with my CSA pick-up tomorrow!

  6. I am not at all Italian, but I love Marcela Hazan. I’m so glad she’s on the list.

  7. I am drooling over this sauce right now. So fresh and light. I seriously am having some withdrawals from pasta like this. Amazing pic of it too

  8. Looks fabulous, Joanne! Fresh ingredients can simply be the best. And, I agree, hot pink is way better than neon green. 🙂

  9. Katie says:

    I think we’ve probably all been to the Olive Garden at least once, and if nothing else, it helped us have a deeper appreciation for the great food we eat today. This pasta looks delicious, and I love that bunch of basil!

  10. sofia says:

    man oh man. i love simple creamy pasta dishes like this. and i too went to olive garden once, and though i’m not Italian, i knew i was doing something very, VERY wrong. just as the tight, high ponytail with a poof of jewfro hair splaying out was also very very wrong. live and learn, right? 🙂

  11. OohLookBel says:

    This looks so good! I’m a bit meh about creamy sauces, too, and found that skim milk with a bit of flour for thickening is a good substitute. Love the zucchini and basil in this pasta.

  12. Wonderful pasta! I love the balance of creaminess and green. Marcella is a personal favourite too – what a great lady.

  13. brandi says:

    This is just what i was looking for! we have a ton of zucchini, just waiting to be used.

  14. Mary says:

    You’ve chosen a great recipe to represent her work. I’ve put it on my to-do list. Thanks for joining us again this week. Have a great weekend. Blessings…Mary

  15. I bought Marcella Hazan’s book twenty years ago and made just about every single recipe in it; my favorite was her osso bucco and her lasagne recipe; this is the kind of pasta dish that I love, perfect for the summer.

  16. polwig says:

    Oh man that looks good and I have all the ingredients in my fridge. I wish my vegetarian tween would eat this but I think she wants the processed stuff, yuck… oh and I dig the pink leggins.

  17. Hi Joanne! This pasta looks delicious!! And I like your pics – question: how do you get them so big without going into the sidebar?? thinking of you in the hot pink leggings …

  18. bellini says:

    I would go to the Olive Garden just for their bottomless salads and Italian dressing:D This is a great dish Joanne. Marcella Hazan is a genius in the kitchen!

  19. Peggy says:

    The shear thought of Olive Garden makes me nauseous. I remember in my non-foodie days that we frequented it a lot – but I’m wiser now. And would definitely rather have this pasta anyday!

  20. Zucchini and pasta, my favorite! Sounds excellent!

  21. jenna laughs says:

    Beautiful! Garlic, parmesan, cream… Heaven!

  22. Danielle says:

    This looks great a perfect summer pasta dish – your pics are always amazing!

  23. girlichef says:

    Mmmmm…it sounds wonderfully creamy and yet light at the same time. Aaahhh, Marcella. LoL…fantastic pick 😀

  24. Great idea! I am in desperate need for exciting zucchini recipes lately, because I planted a box garden this summer for the first time ever and, well, I used about 15 zucchini seeds where probably 1 was necessary. Thanks for the recipe and the humor this morning!

  25. I went to Olive Garden once, too. And Red Lobster. For shame.

    Anyway, there really is no contest between real food and processed crap… and this delicious looking recipe is the perfect example!

  26. No comment on the neon green leggings, LOL! I thought Olive Garden tasted a lot like Stouffers frozen entrees. Your pasta looks so good, I will definitely be making this soon.

  27. peachkins says:

    I love Basil in pasta, makes it more flavorful!

  28. Wow…this is sooooooooo good!

  29. Well, I’ve never been to Red Lobster, but I’ve been to Olive Garden twice. I have to sheepishly admit that I loved their bread and salad. (I don’t even remember my entree.) Marcela’s Penne with Creamy Zucchini and Basil Sauce would be memorable though. It looks fabulous- and perfect for the surfeit of zucchini at my house right now. 🙂

  30. Dana says:

    Oh my god – you brought back bad memories. My first husband was from a very small town near Spokane, WA. Spokane was the big city and when we would go visit his parents, Olive Garden was a big night out. I actually didn’t mind it because I could at least eat something vegetarian that was not a big hunk of cheese. Soup, salad, and breadsticks baby. But it is a shame that much of America thinks OG is really Italian food when it is much more along the lines of what you have made here. Simple and delicious. Congrats on your wonderful news!

  31. Looks so good . . . The trick that I recently learned about making a good Italian pasta dish is to drain the pasta 2 minutes before it’s all dente, and let it get right to al dente as it cooks with the sauce at the very end. Apparently that ensures that you won’t overcook your pasta AND adds flavor to the noodles.

  32. Eden says:

    there are no olive gardens in LA. I think LA is worried it will make them look cheap or something. In other news, a mc donalds just opened up at home depot!

  33. This is perfection. Absolute perfection with a salad and glass of wine, crusty bread and again perfection!

  34. I love Marcella Hazan not only because her name is similar to my mom’s (my mom’s name is Marcelia) but because of her simple, classic recipes. This one looks great!!
    PS – hot pink is TOTALLY way better than neon green.

  35. That Girl says:

    I grew up in a place with no chain Italian restaurants, so I kinda get a kick out of Olive Garden diatribes.

  36. Jeanette says:

    Joanne, what a beautiful pasta dish to try in honor of Marcella Hazans, and yes, without the heavy roux that Italian American restaurants seem to thrive on.

  37. This dish amazingly simple yet delicious. And hot pink – definitely an upgrade. Your placemat is also pink I see.

  38. sweetlife says:

    honestly, I have never been to olive garden. but i know my tastebuds would love this, yummy pink backdrop..make the pasta pop! have a great fridat

  39. Shannon says:

    hehe, i used to love the olive garden, but can’t remember the last time i went! this sounds awesome. have a great weekend! more dates??

  40. Lyndsey says:

    You crack me up…yes…hot pink is much better!;D I had a bunch more to say about the choice in men, but I’ll let that slide for now. This dish looks very good and delicious! I thought it reminded you of Olive Garden at first!

  41. Epicurea says:

    great story, one of my first experiences with italian food in america was at an olive garden :-). the more delighted was i to learn about the real italian-american cooking. your pasta looks delicious and sooo fresh!

  42. Megan says:

    This sounds like the thing to make after a visit to the farmers market!

  43. Kim says:

    Most people look for recipes with zucchini so that they can “use up” all their zucchini. I look for them because I love zucchini in a major way. This looks amazing!

  44. I just made a similar dish this week and will be posting about it soon…except my creamy sauce was made with goat cheese and there was the addition of some chopped tomato. This sounds equally delicious. If you’re like me, you ate half the recipe in one sitting…or should I say standing.

  45. “Reckless with my intestines and taste buds” haha the only thing worse than their food are their TV commercials!

  46. Miranda says:

    This just made it to my menu for this weekend – glad I stopped on your blog before I went to the store! And Olive Garden? Nothing says classic italian like heavy cream sauce and bottled parmesan 🙂

  47. Lori says:

    OG was one of my favorites back in the day, and by day I mean when I didn’t know good food.:) now the only kind of pasta I want is the kind that takes an effort that is worth the taste. Like, say, maybe this one. Love the creamy basil sauce!

  48. OG = BAD. Your pasta dish = gooooood 🙂

  49. Amy says:

    There’s this place in Minneapolis called Bucca. When I first moved there everyone raved about it. Raved and raved. I finally went and could not believe how awful it was. Pasta was over-cooked and the sauce had so much sugar in it, it was was gross…and you know if *I* think there’s too much sugar, that’s says a lot. So, Olive Garden? Not so bad compared to that. But clearly still a lame excuse for Italian food.

    Butter, cream, and Parmesan? WINNER.

  50. Raina says:

    This looks really wonderful! It is my favorite kind of dish and with that basil and zucchini yummy! Yes, the reaction is pretty amusing if you mention Olive Garden around my

  51. Kelsey says:

    really loving the simplicity of this dish- mmm and the zucchini adds so much gorgeous color!

    xoxo <3

  52. daphne says:

    Basil and cream! I am going to experiment with that one day!!

  53. This looks great, and I’m seriously in need of a dish that uses both zucchini and basil, so thank you!

  54. Maria says:

    Such a nice pasta dish, great flavours!

  55. purabi naha says:

    Oh, wow this penne dish with all those wonderful ingredients is looking like a tempting fare for me! Loved the picture!!

  56. Chef Dennis says:

    Now your pasta dish is certainly better than anything that olive garden could come up with. Marcella is a treasure, My first Italian cookbook was Mama Leone’s purchased around 1971, but my next few were written by Marcella. I’m sure she would be proud of your pasta!

  57. Debbie says:

    A beautiful dish and I just love the sauce….

  58. Corina says:

    When I was younger I always chose to eat creamy sauces but now I often feel the same as you about them, but this looks gorgeous – I think I’d have to add a little more parmesan if it was going to serve 5 people though.

  59. Johanna GGG says:

    never heard of the olive tree but I have a feeling we might have similar stores in Australia – though I was lucky to go to uni right near the strip of great italian restaurants – though even so, many of them could do well to make a few more interesting pasta dishes

  60. Chris says:

    I’m keeping this one in mind because zucchini are frequently in my veggie bin and I’m always looking for new ways to serve them. Add cream and cheese? Yes please!

    I look like crap in pink or green leggings.

  61. tigerfish says:

    I was in Olive Garden before and even Apple Bees. Never went back again. Speaks so much about the food. But if I am really desperate, I might still go back. Well, speaks so much about me :O

    This dish looks super easy to do.

  62. Perfect for our summertime garden harvest! The basil and the zucchini are really coming on right now! Marcella Hazan is surely a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to get to the heart of classic Italian … great tribute post!

  63. If there is someone out there who think that vegetarian dish must be boring, then he/ she must pay a visit to this post. Your pasta looks truly delicious and wholesome too!!

  64. Kimberley says:

    I love what you’ve said about Marcella Hazan and I totally agree. And yes to that pasta!

  65. We have an Olive Garden not too far away and I think I was in it once…when we were first married (long time ago). I am always amazed at how the parking lot is always filled. Must be the never-ending bread bowl.

    This looks like a wonderful pasta dish and perfect for the bounty of zucchini that will be at the farmers’ market soon.

  66. I have exactly the same thoughts about OG ..too much cream..too much cheese.But its so overcrowded all the time..that surprises me..however I m little partial towards chicken gnocchi soup & bread sticks- Anyhow this penne is something I can eat everyday coz it has basil – one of my fav herbs!

  67. Oh man that looks SOOO good! Ugh all your recipes make me want to lick the screen 🙂

  68. Elizabeth says:

    This looks truly wonderful. Yum!

    Growing up, the Olive Garden was literally the closest thing we had to a real, actual Italian restaurant (sad, I know – but that’s what you get when you grow up near Fargo). I still love their never-ending salad and breadsticks. If they would deliver to my office, I’d totally order some right now.

  69. Miriam says:

    I hate Olive Garden Food, sorry, I’m one of those Italian food snobs you talked about. Your pasta looks fabulous though!!!! Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

  70. Reeni says:

    I made the mistake of going to Olive Garden once too, my pasta tasted like it came out of a box… I was not impressed. This, however, impresses me. Zucchini-pasta lover that I am.

  71. Elizabeth says:

    What a perfect summer pasta dish. The basil component sounds so refreshing.

  72. Yasmeen says:

    Concur 150% that Americanized Italian food is overcheesed. Melted mozzarella does not equal Italian.

    Love this recipe you’ve chosen – it looks fresh and light and full of green goodness.

  73. Victoria says:

    Yum! Zucchini is probably the one veggie I look forward to in the summer (maybe it’s a tie with corn, who knows), but this pasta looks refreshing and considerably light for one containing cream. Girls do it best! Love this highlight of female chefs who have made a difference 🙂

  74. I remember when I used to think that Olive Garden was good. I think there was also leg warmers involved. Ah, the 80’s.

    THIS pasta looks good. I’m all about the fresh now!

  75. Oh I love zucchini – such a versatile veggie in winter and summer. I actually just planted some yesterday so hopefully I shall be enjoying the fruits of my labour shortly lol.

  76. Carolyn Jung says:

    With the weather finally warming up here, my basil is in full bloom at last. Now, I know the first thing I’m going to make with it, too. This lovely, creamy pasta.

  77. This looks fresh and lovely and just perfect for summer. 😉

  78. I’m glad you haven’t been back to the Olive Garden after that first time. Who would want to go there if you can have this plate of pasta? Marcella is the real deal – an authentic Italian cook who really knows her stuff. Her first cookbook is on my shelf totally stained and dog-eared.

  79. ohhh this looks delicious and so perfect for a quick yummy summer meal 🙂

  80. Stephanie says:

    I just love Marcella. None of her recipes have ever steered me wrong, and this looks like no exception. Can’t wait to try it!

  81. Deborah says:

    I used to always want super saucy pastas, but my tastes are a lot different now!! I love sauces like this, and I love the zucchini!

  82. This looks fantastic. I have so many pasta recipes flagged to try and yet I just added this one to the pile. I NEED this! I am loving your site. I’m happily following you now.

  83. Elizabeth says:

    Excuse me for commenting so late on this…

    When I first saw your penne with zucchini and basil, my initial reaction was, “ewww cooked zucchini is so watery and limp”. But then one of my friends gave us a rather large zucchini just picked from her garden. So THAT’S what zucchini is supposed to be like!!

    Now, I really want to try this pasta dish. Hmmm, I wonder how I can convince my friend to give me another zucchini….

    Ha. My only knowledge of the Olive Garden is from overhearing two blousy ladies talking on the subway:

    “I don’t really like Eye-talian food.”
    “Really? I love it.”
    “There’s too much sauce.”
    “Oh I know what you mean. Whenever I go to the Olive Garden, I always ask for the sauce on the side.”

  84. You’re right, Joanne, Marcella is one of the gurus of Italian cooking. I started collecting all of her cookbooks since her first publication in the late 70’s when I fell in love with cooking. The cream-based pasta sauces such as this, when done RIGHT, are never over-bearing. That truly is the secret. I’ve got to make this soon! Thanks for making it and sharing such great photos of it!

  85. Claudia says:

    Oh boy, this will take care of that zucchini languishing in my fridge, not to mention the basil that needs clipping back. Good one, Joanne.

  86. What a simple and delicious pasta dish!

  87. Kayaker says:

    Looks delicious, but that’s not Penne. 🙂

  88. […] Two years ago…Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake, Pasta Super Salad, Penne with Creamy Zucchini and Basil Sauce […]

  89. […] dinner is following recipe from marcella hazan’s penne with creamy zucchini and basil sauce. In future, I should cut the zucchini slightly […]

  90. Chris says:

    Best zucchini recipe yet! I have zucchini growing everywhere right now and have been trying a lot of recipes to use it up. This is the best one by far! Since I’m pre-diabetic I had to use whole wheat pasta and change the recipe to be more veg-heavy and it still turned out great. I used 2 1/2 pounds of zucchini and a full cup of chopped basil (but added a little more garlic, half and half and olive oil to adjust). I made 2 batches and both turned out fantastic. One batch was an experiment where added 1 teaspoon of cardamom and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg – you could hardly tell it was there but it succeeded in taking the hard edge off the flavor of the whole wheat pasta. This recipe is now in my “favorites” folder. Thanks so much for posting!

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