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Chunky Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta with Lemon (No Cook)

Three pieces of bruschetta topped with pesto di zucchini on a white plate.
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This Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta is the most delicious combination of raw zucchini, fresh basil, roasted nuts, pecorino cheese, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and lots of lemon on grilled bread that you will ever encounter. It’s a beautiful no cook appetizer with great texture and flavor that will have you hooked at first bite! Read on for more.

Seven pieces of grilled bruschetta bread topped with zucchini pesto on cutting board on a orange towel with lemon rind and basil sprig garnish in background.

There are never enough zucchini recipes to have in your culinary arsenal come summer. Considering this veggie is so abundant during the season, it’s great that it can be stuffed, breaded and baked, shredded and fried, turned into zucchini soup and enjoyed in any number of pasta recipes. So versatile!

Some of my favorite zucchini recipes include Creamy Zucchini Pasta, Stuffed Zucchini, Crispy Panko Crusted Zucchini, Spaghetti with Zucchini and Arugula and Zucchini Parmigiana.

This Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta recipe is a pretty original take on the summer veg.

Close up in hand of one piece of zucchini pesto bruschetta with more pieces in background.

The no-cook pesto itself is a combination of raw zucchini that has been salted and squeezed as dry as possible (just like in this zucchini fritters recipe) with fresh lemon juice and zest, roasted nuts, two types of garlic, sharp pecorino cheese, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil.

And, rather than be pureed like a classic pesto, this mixture is left chunky with loads of texture in a deconstructed pesto sort of way. It’s then served on grilled bruschetta (pronounced brew-sket-ta) bread that’s been rubbed with raw garlic and brushed with extra virgin olive oil. Mamma mia!

In a way, the zucchini pesto gives off some ceviche vibes with all the lemon juice somewhat curing the raw zucchini. And like ceviche (and it’s cousin carpaccio), you can enjoy this dish as an appetizer, snack or even a light summer lunch.

In case you’re skeptical, zucchini is actually delicious raw! It has a fresh, mild flavor, a delicate texture and is somewhat of a canvas that absorbs the flavors its paired with.

Hope you give this recipe a try! It’s perfect for that zucchini (or yellow squash) you have growing in your garden or that’s abundant at your local farm stand. Packed with fresh flavor and texture, this recipe is sure to become one of your new favorites! Mangia bene!

Three pieces of zucchini pesto bruschetta on cutting board on a decorative green and white towel with lemon rind and basil sprig garnish in background.

Ingredients for Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta

⁠⁠⁠⁠Here are the main ingredients we’ll need for this zucchini basil pesto bruschetta:

  • Zucchini: Medium or small zucchini work best in this recipe as they have less seeds and water content, so choose them if you have the option. Choose zucchini that are firm without any soft spots. If you’d like to brighten the appearance of this dish, mix in some yellow summer squash.
  • Salt: Salt is not just a flavoring agent here but serves to draw out all the excess moisture from the shredded zucchini.
  • Fresh Basil: While basil is the natural choice here, dill, parsley or mint can be used. A little fresh thyme will add some earthiness. Definitely use fresh and not dried herbs in this recipe.
  • Lemon: One of the beautiful, defining flavors in this dish that really brightens up all the flavors in the recipe. Use freshly squeezed and not the bottled stuff! And, don’t forget the lemon zest!
  • Pecorino Cheese: I love how the sharpness of sheep’s milk pecorino cheese complements the other flavors, but more mellow and earthy Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese can definitely be used as well.
  • Garlic: I love using a combination of a small amount of raw, minced garlic (which has a very strong and spicy taste when not cooked) and a bit more of sweeter and mellower roasted garlic or garlic confit. If you don’t have any of the latter on hand, you can just leave it out. Raw garlic is also rubbed onto the hot grilled bread in the traditional method of preparing bruschetta.
  • Nuts: Add heartiness and great texture! I used roasted pistachios in the recipe, but other nuts work as well! Almonds, walnuts, pine nuts and marcona almonds are all great options. Roasted or toasted nuts are preferred.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Use the really great stuff here! It will make a difference in both the pesto itself and when brushed onto the just-grilled bruschetta bread. If you have some garlic oil on hand, you can use some of that as well.
  • Bread: The essence of bruschetta! Choose a hearty and good quality bread with a sturdy crust such as pane di casa (classic Italian bread), ciabatta, sourdough, baguette or filone bread. Everyday sandwich bread is not the best option for a good bruschetta.

All ingredients for the recipe on a cutting board.

How to Make Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta, Step-by-Step

The key to making zucchini pesto is to extract as much moisture as possible from the zucchini. To do this, salt is combined with shredded zucchini, drawing out its liquid. Then, some dedicated squeezing and wringing out is necessary. I love to use a nylon mesh produce bag for this step as it makes it very easy, but a thin towel, cheesecloth or just your hands can be used. Here are the main steps for making this zucchini pesto recipe:

  • Prep and gather all ingredients. Be sure to zest the lemon before squeezing it for juice!

  • Next, shred the zucchini, salt it to pull out its excess moisture, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible from it.
    • PRO-TIP: Salting the zucchini and squeezing out the liquid is critical to a successful recipe. Do not skip it!

All prepped ingredients for the recipe in glass bowls on a cutting board.
Using a produce mesh bag to squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the salted zucchini into a bowl.
  • Place the drained, shredded zucchini in a large bowl, then add fresh basil, nuts, pecorino cheese, olive oil, garlic, lemon and red pepper flakes and mix until well-combined.

  • Next, make the bruschetta bread: grill both sides of the bread slices on a very hot grill or grill pan. Then, rub the surface of one side of the hot grilled bread with the cut side of a garlic clove. Next, brush it lightly with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Top the seasoned grilled bruschetta bread with a shmear of ricotta cheese (if desired) and then some zucchini pesto, or directly with the pesto. Serve immediately. That’s it!

Large bowl of zucchini pesto about to be spooned onto grilled bruschetta bread.
Zucchini pesto being spooned onto grilled bruschetta bread with large bowl of it in the background.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it okay to eat zucchini raw?

I have been adding raw shredded zucchini to my salads for like forever and enjoying this pesto made with raw zucchini for the last 15 years or so. It’s important to wash zucchini (and all produce and fruit) thoroughly with cold water while scrubbing the skin with a small brush before preparing. Once cut/prepared, you should store raw (and cooked) zucchini in the refrigerator.
 
Having said this, if you bite into the raw zucchini and it tastes unpleasant and/or bitter, dispose it. Please read this if you’d like more information on consuming zucchini raw.

What exactly is bruschetta? I thought it had tomatoes in it.

Bruschetta is an Italian word that comes from the Roman dialect bruscare which means “to roast over coals”. Not coincidentally, bruschetta traces its origins back to ancient Rome where peasants grilled stale bread over an open fire for a simple addition to their meals.
 
While this word has become somewhat synonymous with its popular tomato topping, “bruschetta” actually refers to the bread itself, not the (tomato or any) topping. Originally, it consisted only of toasted rustic bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled lightly with salt.
 
Over time, bruschetta has evolved to include toppings of all types, from the ubiquitous, simple tomato topping, to cured meats, caponata, various cheeses and this unique, chunky zucchini topping. Think of it like a blank canvas with endless possibilities!

What is the best bread for bruschetta?

Use hearty and good quality bread with a sturdy crust to make bruschetta so that it can hold any juicy toppings. It should toast up on the firm side. Some great options are pane di casa (classic Italian bread), ciabatta, sourdough, baguette or filone bread. Everyday sandwich bread is not the best option for a good bruschetta.

Zucchini crostini close up.

Love bruschetta? If so, check out this classic tomato bruschetta and this colorful caprese bruschetta with fresh mozzarella and tomato.

What is the difference between bruschetta and crostini?

They’re very similar. Bruschetta (which actually refers to the bread, not the topping) is generally a large, thick slice of bread that’s grilled, rubbed with raw garlic and then brushed or drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. They’re often topped with tomatoes and basil, though other toppings from meats to vegetables can be used.
 
Crostini, which means “little toasts,” are thinner, smaller slices of bread (usually from a baguette) that are always toasted then piled with various toppings, such as vegetables, savory spreads, and cheeses. Sometimes, crostini refers to a crouton in soups and salads.
 
Zucchini Pesto can be enjoyed on either grilled bruschetta or toasted crostini!

More Vegetable Recipes You’ll Love

If you’ve enjoyed this pesto di zucchini recipe, check out these other veggie favorites:

Three pieces of bruschetta topped with pesto di zucchini on a white plate.

If you love pesto in general, check out these other recipes featuring the traditional, fragrant pesto from northern Italy: Pesto Tortellini Salad, Pesto Ricotta Pasta, Creamy Zucchini Pasta, Zucchini Soup with Pesto and Turkey Meatballs with Pesto.

Recipe Substitutions and Variations

There’s actually quite a few ways that you can make this zucchini crostini and bruschetta recipe your own. I love that it’s so versatile! Here are a few ideas:

  • Use parmesan cheese or ricotta salata in place of pecorino. Or, for a Greek infusion, try a little crumbled feta cheese. For a vegan option, leave the cheese out or substitute it with some vegan grated cheese or nutritional yeast.
  • Chopped sun-dried tomatoes will add some color and sweetness. On the other hand, a little chopped black, oil-cured olive or capers will add a briny, pungent element.
  • While basil is the natural choice here, you can also try dill, parsley or mint. A little fresh thyme will add some earthiness. (Use only fresh and not dried herbs in this recipe.) For a gluten-free option, substitute the bread altogether with a thick roasted sweet or regular potato slice.Instead of shredding the zucchini, make zoodles with the help of a spiralizer and turn this into a no-cook, gluten-free main dish like no other!
  • Turn this deconstructed zucchini pesto into zucchini fritters! I have a pretty great recipe for Italian zucchini fritters already on my site. But, although I haven’t tried it myself, I am pretty confident that if you folded in 3 beaten large eggs, ½ cup flour and 1 tsp baking powder to this recipe and followed the frying instructions over at my amazing zucchini fritter recipe, you’d have some really unique and super delicious, lemony zucchini fritters. Please try this and report back!


Three pieces of zucchini pesto bruschetta on cutting board on a decorative green and white towel with lemon rind and basil sprig garnish in background.

Enjoy zucchini pesto bruschetta as a starter with chicken cutlets, pulled pork and all your cookout favorites!

TOP TIPS FOR ZUCCHINI PESTO BRUSCHETTA

  • Zucchini: This recipe also works with other summer squash, such as yellow crookneck or gray zucchini. Also, small/medium-sized zucchini tend to have better flavor and less seeds, so choose them if you have the option. There’s no need to peel the zucchini as its skin is very thin and mild.
  • DO NOT SKIP THE SALT AND DRAINING STEP! This is critical to a successful recipe. If you don’t squeeze out excess liquid from the zucchini, the pesto will be watery and unpalatable.
  • Recipe Amounts: Increase or decrease the lemon, basil, nuts, garlic and cheese to your individual taste.
  • Having said this,don’t overdo it on the raw garlic as it has a very strong taste when not cooked and can easily overpower this recipe.
  • Make extra! You’ll be happy you did. Leftover zucchini pesto is awesome when tossed with pasta (with or without some ricotta cheese and cherry tomatoes) for a unique zucchini pesto pasta. Or, use the pesto as a delicious stuffing for salmon filet or boneless chicken breasts.
  • Hold leftovers for 2 to 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring them to room temperature before eating. I don’t recommend freezing.

More Great Recipes to Try

I hope that you are enjoying my Italian food blog and all of my Italian recipes and Italian-American recipes!

If you’ve tried Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta, please let me know how it went in the comments below. I love hearing from you!

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Close up in hand of one piece of zucchini pesto bruschetta with more pieces in background.

Chunky Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta with Lemon (No Cook)

Michele
This Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta is the most delicious combination of raw zucchini, fresh basil, roasted nuts, pecorino cheese, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and lots of lemon on grilled bread that you will ever encounter. It’s a beautiful no cook appetizer with great texture and flavor that will have you hooked at first bite!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 minutes
Resting TIme 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12 servings

Equipment

Ingredients
  

For the Zucchini Pesto:

  • 2 pounds zucchini (on the medium or small side; see NOTES.)
  • tsp fine salt
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil, packed
  • ½ cup rough chopped roasted nuts (use your favorite!)
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (can use some garlic oil)
  • 6 cloves garlic confit or roasted garlic , mashed (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (zest the lemon first!)
  • 1 tsp minced raw garlic
  • Zest of one lemon
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • Pinch more salt (if needed; see NOTES.)

For the Bruschetta:

  • About 12 slices of even thickness Italian, ciabatta, sourdough or your favorite bread (depends on the bread size)
  • 4-5 cloves raw garlic cut in half or smashed
  • 4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or garlic oil
  • Ricotta cheese (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Prep and gather all ingredients according to specifications above. Be sure to zest the lemon before squeezing it for juice.
    (Please see the section above in the blog post for Step-By-Step instructions with photos.)
  • Next, prep the zucchini: Cut the ends off the zucchini. Then, using either the large hole on a box grater or the grating disc on a food processor, grate all the zucchini and place it in a large bowl. Sprinkle 1½ tsp fine salt over the zucchini and mix well. Let this mixture rest for about 30 minutes or so at room temperature, while the salt draws out most of the liquid form the zucchini. Then, use cheesecloth, a mesh bag, a thin towel or your hands to SQUEEZE out (and discard) as much liquid from the zucchini as possible, working in batches. You will be left with approximately 3 cups drained, shredded zucchini. (You can do this step one day in advance and hold the drained zucchini in the refrigerator. You may need to squeeze out additional liquid after refrigeration.)
    2 pounds zucchini, 1½ tsp fine salt
  • Place the drained, shredded zucchini in a large bowl, then add the remaining pesto ingredients and mix until well-combined. (See NOTES about when to add the remaining pinch of salt, if needed.) You can serve the zucchini pesto immediately or refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavors to combine and the zucchini to marinate. Stir once before serving and bring it to room temperature.
    ½ cup chopped fresh basil,, ½ cup rough chopped roasted nuts, ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, 6 cloves garlic confit, 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp minced raw garlic, Zest of one lemon, ½ tsp ground black pepper, Pinch crushed red pepper
  • When ready to serve, make the bruschetta bread: grill both sides of the bread slices on a very hot grill or grill pan until slightly charred. Then, rub the surface of one side of the hot grilled bread with the cut side of a garlic clove. Next, brush it lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Top the seasoned grilled bruschetta bread with a shmear of ricotta cheese (if desired) and then some zucchini pesto, or directly with the pesto. Serve immediately. Buon Appetito!
    About 12 slices of even thickness Italian, ciabatta, sourdough or your favorite bread, 4-5 cloves raw garlic, 4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, Ricotta cheese

Notes

  • This recipe makes about 4½ cups pesto mixture. I figured about 1/3 cup or so per person. Adjust accordingly. This recipe can easily be cut in half or doubled for a smaller or larger batch, respectively.
  • Medium or small zucchini work best in this recipe as they have less seeds and water content.
  • There’s no need to peel the zucchini as its skin is very thin and mild.
  • The zucchini can be partially or wholly substituted with yellow (summer) squash.
  • DO NOT SKIP THE SALT AND DRAINING STEP! This is critical to a successful recipe.
  • Don’t overdo it on the raw garlic as it has a very strong taste when not cooked.
  • I used roasted pistachios in the recipe, but other nuts work as well! Almonds, walnuts, pine nuts and marcona almonds are all great options. Roasted or toasted nuts are preferred.
  • Use as much or as little as the individual ingredients as you desire. While the initial salt amount is tied to the amount of zucchini, you can increase or decrease the lemon, basil, nuts, garlic and cheese to your taste.
  • You may not need any additional salt other than what is used at the beginning of the recipe to draw the moisture out of the zucchini. Taste test the pesto at the very end after all ingredients have been added. Then, adjust seasoning as needed.
  • If you don’t have access to a grill or a grill pan, you can either simply toast the bread in a toaster or in the oven, which is actually more crostini-like.
  • The ricotta is completely optional, but it makes a richer dish and is oh-so-delicious! I usually make and serve some bruschetta with the ricotta and some without.
  • While this pesto is best made and consumed on the same day, you can make the zucchini pesto one day in advance and hold it in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
  • Leftovers of the pesto can be held for 2 to 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Either bring the leftovers to room temperature before eating, or process them into another recipe, such as tossing them with pasta or using them as a stuffing for salmon or chicken breast. Freezing is not recommended.
 
Recipe by Mangia With Michele. Please visit my site for more great cooking inspiration!
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1 thought on “Chunky Zucchini Pesto Bruschetta with Lemon (No Cook)

  1. 5 stars
    OMG-this was the best recipe and so surprisingly delicious! Wish I had made more as it went quickly. May try it with pasta next! Thank you for clear instructions!

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