Gluten-free and low carb, this healthy and delicious pasta recipe is made with zucchini zoodles (noodles), sweet Italian sausage and hearty kale.
One of my all-time favorite high protein and low carbohydrate dinner recipes is zucchini noodles tossed with Italian sausage and kale. Easy to make, kid-friendly and packed with flavor, it is always a family favorite.
My kids love watching me spiralize veggies, so if you want to get your kids to like zucchini noodles, I highly recommend keeping them in the kitchen to help you cook dinner. For this zucchini zoodles recipe, here’s what’s inside:
- Zucchini: Look for larger zucchinis which are easier to spiralize and give you longer “noodles” for the dish.
- Olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil is preferred for this dish but regular olive oil will work fine too.
- Garlic: Aromatic garlic is a must in this dish. It adds a slight punch of heat which mellows and sweetens as it cooks.
- Italian Sausage: Italian sausage is scented with garlic, fennel and other spices adding tons of flavor to the zucchini noodles and kale. We love using a combination of sweet and spicy but either works. Turkey sausage is also a great option.
- Kale: Hearty, leafy kale is a nutrient powerhouse in this dish. Perfect for absorbing all of the cooking juices from the sausage and excess water from the zucchini noodles.
- Parmesan Cheese: High quality parmigianno reggiano is a great option for this recipe because it’s nutty, pungent and perfectly salty.
- Optional garnishes: Before serving, I love sprinkling with chili flakes and fresh herbs such as basil or Italian parsley.
How to Make Zucchini Zoodles
To get started, first, turn your zucchini into noodles with your favorite vegetable spiralizer. Pro tip: If you and your family are not 100% sure about zucchini noodles yet, start off by replacing half of the pasta first. Chances are, your family won’t notice the zucchini noodles mixed in with the traditional spaghetti.
Second, heat olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Grate garlic and sauté it for 30 seconds — or until the aroma fills your kitchen area!
Third, remove the sweet Italian sausage from casings and heat in the pan using a wooden spoon to break down meat into bite-sized pieces. Make sure to cook it until it’s cooked through and golden brown, about 7-9 minutes.
Fourth, prepare the kale. To do this, soak your greens in a large bowl of cold water, then lift them out of the water, allowing the dirty water to fall back into the bowl. Chop the stems (which are packed with nutrients) and fold the leaves together and use a knife to cut them into slices. Rotate the slices and chop them in the other direction to make small pieces.
Fifth, add kale to the pan and sauté it until it starts to wilt and turn bright green, about 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Sixth, toss in the remaining olive oil and zucchini noodles to the pan. Saute the mixture until the zucchini is just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. NOTE: You don’t want to boil or pre-cook the zucchini before this point. This is the secret to firm, tender zucchini noodles that aren’t overly mushy.
Right before removing from the heat, stir in the parmesan cheese and toss until melted. Sharp Parmesan cheese is added at the end to add tanginess and a subtle sharpness to offset the sweet sausage and tender zucchini noodles.
Finally, check it for seasoning and add salt or pepper to taste. Add basil and for a little kick, sprinkle with chili flakes before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to boil or cook the zucchini noodles first?
There is no need to boil or pre-cook the zucchini noodles! The key to tender, not overly mushy zucchini noodles is to cook them right in the pan with the sausage, garlic, oil and other spices.
How far in advance can I make this recipe?
These zucchini noodles with sausage and kale will be good for up to three days stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
Can I sub the Italian sausage for other proteins?
The secret to this dish is that the zucchini and kale cook in the residual oil from sautéing the sausage. Additionally, the sausages provide a lot of the flavor because they’re pre-made with salt, fennel, garlic and other spices. As such, I don’t recommend using lean cuts of meat such as boneless chicken breasts or pre-cooked chicken sausages without adding a good amount of additional oil, salt, garlic and other seasonings.
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Your fork is waiting.
Zucchini Noodles with Sausage and Kale
- 3 medium zucchini (spiralized)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 4 links sweet Italian sausage (casings removed, pork or turkey both work)
- 4 cups kale (chopped)
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- chili flakes and minced basil (optional garnish)
- Using your favorite vegetable spiralizer, turn your zucchini into noodles; set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Remove sausage from casings and heat in the pan using a wooden spoon to break down meat into bite-sized pieces. Cook until cooked through and golden brown, about 7-9 minutes.
- Add kale to the pan and sauté until it starts to wilt and turn bright green, about 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Toss in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and zucchini noodles to the pan and saute until zucchini is just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.
- Right before removing from the heat, stir in the parmesan cheese and toss until melted. Check for seasoning then add salt or pepper to taste. Garnish with chili flakes and basil if you wish to serve.