Lasagna Stuffed Zucchini Boats! Summer squash loaded up with ALL the good stuff. Mozzarella AND Parmesan cheese, tomato basil sauce, wilted spinach, and ground turkey flavored to taste just like crumbled Italian pork sausage.
Low-fat, protein-packed, and carb-conscious // but tastes like you’re digging your fork into a meaty, cheesy layer of freshly baked lasagna. Weeknight dinner dreams are made of THESE.
You can stock yourself up on some simple heat-and-eat meals throughout the week by making a batch of these babies. Halved and hollowed out into bakeable boats, this takes humble zucchini up several notches into coveted comfort-food-land.
And that’s one of my favorite places to be. That intersection where healthy food meets happy tummy.
Last week I got to share some exciting news with you all. And THIS week, well I will shamelessly take this as another opportunity to just say it again. And again. Annnnnd AGAIN. Shouting the news all around town (and the world wide web) until someone inevitably pins me down and duct tapes my mouth shut.
But until that happens…let me just say - I’m getting MARRIED!
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AHHHHHHHHH. A week later and it still feels SO freakin’ good to say it. Every time I catch a glimpse of the sparkly situation happening on my left hand, I have to stifle an involuntary high-pitched squeal. If I’m driving alone in my car, then I just keep the windows closed and let it ride. But it’s slightly harder to explain why it sounds like a small mouse is being repeatedly stepped on when you’re the only other cart in the grocery aisle.
Can’t help it. Too excited. As in my face hurts from smiling so much and I’m worried I might develop lockjaw sometime in the near future.
A week after the engagement (and nearing a MONTH after our long vacation, eek) and I’m still not quiiiiiite on track with my healthier eating habits. I have been easing back into the gym, trying to up my water intake (always a struggle), and trying to fill my fridge with all sorts of real + wholesome + fresh foods. You know instead of say filling my cabinets with secret candy stashes, or what I call the emergency sugar stockpile.
All I want to do is pasta-bacon-cookie-waffle my way to the wedding day, but I figure I might have a better shot at getting the dress of my dreams if I at least try to vegetable-protein-quinoa-salad my way there too.
So I’ve been diving into some of my go-to, tried and true, lower carb, lower fat, high-protein dinner options that feel every bit like my favorite comfort foods. If it resembles pasta or pizza, I’m ALL over it. This dish included.
In the summer, zucchini is available EVERYWHERE and you can get it on-the-cheap. It also happens to be one of my favorite green veggies that is versatile, requires little prep, and is easy to cook.
Simply trim off the ends and cut the zucchini in half lengthwise.
The trick is to use a spoon (preferably one with a pointed end) to scrape out the pulp down the middle until you’ve hollowed out a veggie boat. You want to leave about ¼” all around so it can hold up the filling later on.
I don’t re-incorporate the scooped out zucchini pulp in this recipe because I don't prefer the meat mixture to be soft. I do save the middle sections to chop up later and fold into stir fry dishes // vegetable fried rice throughout the week. It helps add good vegetable fiber to other dishes without adding a lot of calories or affecting the flavor one bit.
While the zucchini boats bake in the oven, you can prep the stuffing ingredients. Jazzing up plain-jane ground turkey with big flavors like fresh minced garlic, tomato sauce, Italian herbs, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes makes it taste like crumbled Italian pork sausage. Those bite-sized pieces of sausage that meat-lovers pizzas are topped with and the most decadent lasagnas have tucked into each and every cheesy layer. Fennel seeds in particular are what give Italian sausage that signature taste, so for me those are a must in this recipe!
We are using some of my favorite time-saving shortcuts - store-bought tomato sauce + Italian seasoning.
The Italian herb blend is a great mix of oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, rosemary, and sage – saving you from having to add in + measure each of those individually. And the tomato basil pasta sauce already has a lot of flavors that have been slowly simmered down and condensed - packing in tomato, onion, and even more herbs into the mix. Keeping this lean-turkey // lean-vegetable dish tasting moist + rich + flavorful.
TIP: Use a microplane (sometimes called a fine grater or zester) to make freshly minced garlic, instead of chopping + mincing it by hand with a knife and cutting board. This makes it so easy to grate garlic very finely + directly into the pan.
I just peel the clove and give it a quick grate, rinse the grater and use it again to grate up the Parmesan cheese moments later. This microplane is very similar to the one I have been using at home for years.
After a few minutes of cooking up the ground meat, we toss in some sneaky chopped spinach and fold in it until it almost disappears into the mixture. Once the zucchini has baked through and is just fork-tender, stuff the boats with tomato sauce + meat, sprinkle with cheese and crank the oven up to broil until just melted and bubbly.
Then all there's left to do is divvy up the fresh from the oven boats on a plate, add forks, and dig on in.
There's only a few of these loaded lasagna boats left waiting in the fridge right now, the rest were devoured for dinner this week. Which tells me it's time to roll up my sleeves to rock-paper-scissors Billy for the leftovers. Or to see how quickly I can eat them both before he reads this. Wish me luck 🙂
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Lasagna Stuffed Zucchini Boats
- 4 medium zucchini
- 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- ½ c tomato basil pasta sauce
- ⅔ c shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
- ½ c grated Parmesan cheese
ITALIAN "SAUSAGE" & SPINACH FILLING
- 1 lb lean ground turkey
- ½ tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbs tomato sauce
- 1 tbs Italian seasoning
- 2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 c chopped spinach
- PREP ZUCCHINI BOATS: Preheat oven to 350. Wash zucchini and trim off ends. Cut in half lengthwise. Then using a sharp spoon, hollow out each zucchini half. Hold a half in one hand cutside up and using your other hand, angle the spoon pointed downward with the rounded bottom facing away from you. Use a scraping motion to whittle away at the center and remove the pulp. Scrape out the seeded middle section leaving about a ¼ ” all around - sides, ends, and bottom. Leave a wall all around that can contain the filling.
- BAKE ZUCCHINI: Prep a baking sheet lined with foil and greased with olive oil. Place the zucchini boats side by side on the baking sheet with the cut side facing up. Placing them close together on a smaller baking sheet or in a baking dish will help them stay upright. Rub a little bit of olive oil onto the top of each zucchini, sprinkle with a little bit of salt and pepper, and place in oven. Bake for 30 min.
- COOK “SAUSAGE” & VEGGIES: While the zucchini bakes, cook the ground turkey using a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic, cooking for about a minute stirring constantly. Then turn up to medium-high heat and add ground turkey with remaining spices and tomato sauce. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until turkey is nearly cooked through. Stir constantly, using the back of a spatula or spoon to break up the meat into small pieces (like crumbled sausage). Add spinach and fold together until wilted and turkey is cooked through.
- FILL ZUCCHINI BOATS: After boats have baked for 30 min, remove tray from oven. Set oven to broil (high). Place 1 tbs of tomato basil pasta sauce in each zucchini half. Then divide the filling up evenly among the boats (if you end up with extra filling, set aside and serve alongside later on). Top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Place tray back in the oven and broil for 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and just beginning to turn golden brown on top.