Believe it or not, the best summer pasta sauce starts with yellow squash

I’ve never been a big fan of summer yellow squash, considering it boring with its tender skin and watery flesh. However, over the past week, I’ve worked on perfecting a pasta that uses caramelized yellow squash as a base for a rich, slightly sweet sauce.

As I wrote in an article about summer depletion and summer squash, this recipe started as a throwaway meal. I had most a bucatini sleeve, a single strip of bacon, half an onion and some shaved Parmesan. I dug into the vegetable drawer and pushed the sacks of cabbage and turnip aside. There was an annual summer squash purchase – two yellow straight necks, still fresh from my last trip to the supermarket.

Scanning the spread of ingredients, I thought of two pasta recipes I enjoyed making: Caramelized Zucchini Pasta from Ali Slagl and Caramelized Leek Pasta from Alison Roman. If zucchini can turn caramel, why not use yellow squash, especially if there are some onions in the pan to help it along the way?

I put a little olive oil and a bundle of butter in a frying pan. As it thaws, I peel the squash and roughly chop the onion. Then I let the mixture simmer, pushing it with the back of a wooden spoon around the pan every 10 minutes or so. Within 20 minutes, the squash has turned. Its malleable yellow and white slivers have deepened to a hazel color, and the botanical sweetness has noticeably deepened.

Within 40 minutes, I was eating the caramelized squash from the skillet with my spoon.

When mixed with bucatini (you can use any pasta you like, of course, but bucatini is always a favorite here at Salon Food) and some reserved pasta water, it’s the perfect summer pasta sauce—especially when topped with chives, a bit of Parmesan and crunchy crumbled bacon.

Yellow caramel squash pasta with bacon and butter


  • 2 small yellow summer zucchini, grated or coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 small white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 to 4 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional oil if needed while caramelizing
  • 12 oz bucatini
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup full fat Greek or plain yogurt
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: chives, shredded Parmesan, crispy bacon


  1. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and red pepper flakes to taste, then add the grated zucchini and chopped onion. Sprinkle the salt over the mixture, reduce the heat to medium-low and toss well. Caramel is a long and slow action. Be prepared to pop into a movie or podcast while you wait.
  2. Over the course of 40 minutes to an hour, stir the pumpkin mixture every 10 minutes or so, making sure to scrape any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. If the squash begins to appear dry, add a little olive oil. Remove from the heat once the onions and zucchini are bound and brown enough.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the bucatini according to package directions, making sure to reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water.
  4. Add the pasta to the skillet with the squash mixture, as well as the remaining butter, 1/4 cup full-fat yogurt and a little bit of the reserved pasta water. Heat mixture over medium-low heat and adjust sauce to desired consistency. For a thicker sauce, add more yogurt. For something a little thinner, add more pasta water. Until satisfied, adjust 1 tablespoon at a time, then season with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, feel free to eat as is, or with chives, shaved Parmesan cheese and crunchy bacon. To make this dish vegan, simply use vegan butter and yogurt, then top the bowl with chives and crunchy breadcrumbs.

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This recipe originally appeared in Salon Food’s weekly food newsletter, The Bite. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on special recipes, how-tos and articles.

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