Mac and cheese is combined with summer squash for this creamy side dish that even your picky eaters will love. A hint of lemon and a buttery topping turns this make ahead pasta dish into a summer casserole that’s great for a potluck, cookout or any family gathering.
The creamiest mac & cheese with veggies, even the kids will like!
You can never have too many squash or zucchini recipes, so if you’re looking for something to do with your bounty of summer squash and zucchini, and are tired of traditional squash casserole, you’re going to love this pasta casserole recipe.
You don’t have to save it just for summer, you can always find squash in the grocery, so keep it in mind for your next work potluck or holiday side dish.
Is yellow squash the same as zucchini?
They are actually two different vegetables but they can be used interchangeably in this recipe and in most other squash recipes.
Why you’ll love a squash casserole recipe
- It’s a great way to use summer squash or zucchini
- It’s a healthy way to spruce up a homemade mac and cheese dish and sneak in some veggies
- You can find squash in the grocery all year long so it’s a great potluck or holiday side
- You can make this in advance and refrigerate until ready to bake.
While seasoning the squash, you might think it has too many red pepper flakes, but when you add it to the pasta the flavor spreads out and you end up with just a hint of spice.
Of course, I had to remove some of the pasta to a separate ramekin before adding the squash due to a picky eater in the house.
I can remember my grandmother doing this for me when I didn’t like the mayonnaise dressing that she put on fruit salad. I guess I’m just carrying on the tradition. The picky eater loved the dish without the squash and why wouldn’t you, it’s basically macaroni and cheese!
What can you use instead of breadcrumbs?
While panko breadcrumbs add a crunch to the top of casseroles, you can also used crushed Ritz crackers and still have a crunchy topping. You won’t need to add the butter, just crush them and place them on top before baking.
How do you keep squash casserole from getting watery?
Sauteing the squash before adding it to the casserole, removes the liquid so that the casserole is not watery.
What you’ll need
- Orecchiette pasta – this fun shaped pasta, that translates to “little ear” in Italian is fun to use in this dish but literally any favorite pasta shape will work.
- Summer squash – be sure to slice the veggies thin. There’s no need to peel it after you wash it – just slice! You can just as easily use zucchini or a combination of both.
- Panko breadcrumbs – panko crumbs adds an extra crunch which you need for a pasta casserole. You can find them in the bread or baking section at your grocery.
- Lemon – you will want to zest the outside of the lemon before squeezing the lemon juice out.
- Green onions – green onions with their milder flavor add just enough interest without the harsh onion bite.The green and white parts are both edible so don’t waste them!
- Fresh spices – parsley and thyme come in the refrigerated section at your grocery or they’re easy to grow in a pot outside or on a balcony. Fresh adds a new dimension of flavor over dried spices, but you can used dried.
- Parmesan cheese – it’s easy to buy parmesan cheese already grated or grate your own, it’s a nice hard, nutty cheese that finishes nicely on top of sauces and pasta.
- Mozzarella cheese – for this recipe, you’ll buy a block of mozzarella and cut it into small cubes. Don’t buy fresh mozzarella as it has more moisture than you’ll need.
- Pantry staples – butter, salt and pepper, milk, flour, garlic, butter, red pepper flakes and olive oil.
How Do You Make a Pasta with Squash and Zucchini
Step 1: Cook the pasta
Cook the pasta in salted water, drain. Set aside.
Step 2: Cook the squash
In a large skillet, cook the thinly sliced squash. (I used a mandolin). Add some red pepper flakes. Let it brown before moving around so that it has some color to it, transfer to a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over it.
Step 3: Make the sauce
In the same pan, melt butter, add some green onions and garlic cook for a couple of minutes. Next add flour and slowly add milk. Add lemon zest, parsley and thyme.
Add to the pasta mixture along with some parmesan and mozzarella and stir to combine. Pour into a baking dish.
In a small skillet combine butter and panko, stirring until brown. Sprinkle over the pasta mixture and bake until golden brown.
Every time I make this dish, the family asks why it’s been so long since we’ve had this summer squash casserole. That’s what it’s like to live with a food blogger, once you’ve perfected a recipe, it’s hard to get repeats.
- My favorite part is the lemon flavor that you get from just a teaspoon of lemon zest and juice from half of a lemon. Make sure you zest first or you’ll have a mess.
- For the pasta part of the dish, I used whole milk to make the bechamel sauce, but you could lighten it with skim or make it richer with cream. I thought whole milk was a good compromise. It’s creamy but not too rich. There is just enough cheese to make it gooey without hiding the squash completely.
- If you don’t have a mandolin, put it on your Christmas list. Natalie got one for me one year and I use it all the time, it’s great for au gratin potatoes.
How to Store a squash casserole
Store leftovers in an airtight container and warm in the oven or microwave.
You can freeze this before or after it has baked. If freezing before you bake it, wait to add the panko crumbs until ready to bake.
Summer Squash Pasta Bake FAQs
What is the yellow squash called?
Yellow squash or summer squash comes in 2 varieties – straightneck and crookneck. Crookneck is known for its larger seeds and having a thicker and waxier skin. Straightneck has a larger bottom and a slender neck.
Can you eat yellow squash raw?
Yes, the entire body, skin and seeds of the yellow squash are edible cooked or raw. It’s great dipped into some homemade ranch dressing.
Do you need to peel yellow squash?
Good news! You don’t have to peel this squash. The skin has great color and nutrients plus the skin helps the vegetable hold together better.
How long does yellow squash last?
If you keep the vegetable on the counter, it’ll last 1-4 days but you can add a few days to its shelf life by storing it in the refrigerator.
Spruced Up Mac and Cheese Recipes to Try
- Macaroni and cheese with broccoli
- One pot macaroni and cheese
- Mac and cheese with spinach
- Cauliflower mac and cheese
- Crock pot mac and cheese
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
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Creamy Pasta with Squash Casserole
- 8 ounces orecchiette pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb summer squash sliced thin
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ lemon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3 green onions sliced thin, green parts reserved
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- ¼ cup parsley
- ½ tablespoon fresh thyme
- salt and pepper
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese grated
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Cook the pasta in salted water, drain. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil until hot and add thinly sliced squash. (I used a mandolin) Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Let it brown before moving around so that it has some color to it, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over it. Salt and pepper to taste.
- In the same pan, melt butter. Add green onions and garlic and saute for about 1-2 minutes. Add flour and stir until absorbed. Slowly add milk that has been warmed in the microwave stirring after each addition until well incorporated. Add lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add half of the parsley and all of the thyme.
- Add cooked pasta, squash, ½ cup of parmesan and all of the mozzarella, stir to combine and place in a baking dish. Top with remaining parmesan.
- In a small skillet add 2 tablespoons butter and panko, stirring until brown. Sprinkle over the pasta mixture and bake at 400º for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Add reserved parsley if desired.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- If you don’t have a mandolin, try to cut the squash as thin as possible.
- You can use either zucchini or yellow squash or a mixture of both.
- This can be made ahead and refrigerated. Remove and let it come to room temperature and then bake as directed.
- You can remove a portion before adding the squash if you have non-squash eaters. Place in a ramekin and bake until golden brown. The ramekin will take less time.