Looking for more ways to enjoy an abundance of zucchini? Healthy eating never tasted so good thanks to this kid-friendly, adult-approved, pizza-inspired meal that comes together with ease. And just like your favorite pizza, these boats can be customized to fit a variety of eating styles and individually topped to suit personal preferences.
This simple meal is rooted in practicality. How do I use ALL THESE ZUCCHINIS? (And summer squash!)
Many of us find ourselves in the same seasonal quandary every year around this time.
We bake zucchini bread, churn out zoodles, grill, sauté, and try to give this prolific vegetable away. Yet there always seems to be more.
When I first started making the following meal for my family, it seemed first and foremost like a fabulous way to purge four zucchini from our stockpile in one fell swoop.
Who would have thought something so practical would be such a hit?
Such a hit, in fact, that I buy zucchini in the off-season for the sake of this meal. I welcome these fun “boats” as much for their speedy and wholesome appeal as my family does for their great taste and filling nature.
Like the takeout favorite that inspired them, these boats (which are essentially scooped out zucchini halves that are then filled and baked) can be customized to fit a variety of eating styles and individually topped to suit personal preferences.
For instance, they are naturally grain- and gluten-free, and can be made vegetarian with a meatless sauce and veggie toppings. The boats can also be Paleo or keto if you start with a sauce that has no added sugar.
Scooping out the seeds and hollowing the halves serves several purposes. First, there’s more room for the tasty filling, which in turn makes for a palate-pleasing ratio of vegetable to filling. (Case in point, my younger son typically scoffs at zucchini but he loves these!) Second, zucchini has a high water content, and removing the seeds rids the vegetable of some of the excess moisture, eliminating the likelihood of that moisture watering down the sauce.
My family’s favorite sauce for these boats is a meaty one. For its hearty, filling nature an excellent flavor, I keep containers of Doctored-Up Spaghetti Sauce in the freezer, but your favorite pizza, meat, or marinara sauce may be used.
Whatever variety you choose, I recommend a thicker sauce, especially if you, like me, tend to use it liberally. (A thicker sauce prevents a soupy outcome.)
As for toppings, a slice or two of pepperoni goes a long way in providing that classic pizza flavor without zapping the health appeal, but feel free to top as you like. Black olives, thinly sliced bell pepper, mushrooms, sausage, and all the other traditional pizza toppings are fair game. (Anchovies, anyone?) Of course, you may certainly stick with plain cheese.
If you have fresh basil on hand, a light sprinkle of the torn leaves before serving adds a lovely hint of fresh flavor.
If you don’t have homemade sauce on hand but would like to incorporate some meaty flavor, you may sauté some meat of choice (ground beef, turkey or sausage for example) and then add a jar of your favorite store-bought sauce. A good ratio is ½ to ¾ pounds of ground meat to 2 cups of sauce.
- 4 medium zucchinis (about 8 ounces each)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt plus freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1½ cups spaghetti or pizza sauce*
- 1 lightly rounded cup (about 5 ounces) shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
- Topping choices: ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, ¼ – ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, pepperoni (minis or regular), cooked sausage, thinly sliced bell pepper, mushrooms, sliced black olives, slivered red onion – even anchovies!
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Optional garnish: torn fresh basil or other fresh herbs of choice
- Preheat the oven to 375℉, and lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with oil or spray. Alternatively, you may line the sheet with foil or parchment for easy cleanup.
- Slice each zucchini lengthwise into two even halves. Using a small spoon or melon baller, scrape out the seedy center and a little bit of the flesh, leaving a border of about ⅓ to ½ inch on all sides. Arrange the zucchini shells on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the insides of the zucchini with salt and pepper. Tip: if the zucchini halves lean to one side, I wedge a little something (a veggie scrap, dried bean, nut, etc.) under the lower side. This will keep the surface level and prevent the melted cheese from sliding off later.
- Spoon the sauce into each shell, evenly filling the scooped-out area without overflowing it.
- Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella or Italian blend cheese over the top, and then evenly distribute your toppings of choice. (I like to cut standard-size pepperoni slices in half or quarters for a little bit in each bite.) Finally, sprinkle with the Parmesan.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly and the zucchini is tender. (I pierce the zucchini with the tip of a sharp knife to determine doneness; precise cooking time will depend on oven, size of zucchini, thickness of “walls” and desired degree of tenderness.) If desired, you may briefly broil, watching closely to avoid burning, to lightly brown the cheese. (Don’t broil, however, if your baking sheet is lined with parchment, as the paper may catch fire.) Remove from the oven and sprinkle with optional fresh basil or fresh herbs of choice and enjoy immediately.
*You may adjust the sauce and cheese amounts up or down according to size of zucchini. We love a meaty sauce like Doctored Up Spaghetti Sauce, although a traditional pizza sauce (store-bought or homemade) or meatless marinara sauce may also be used.
Storage: leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Place in a 350℉ until the boats are warmed through, about 10-15 minutes. Freezing is not recommended.
Tip if using large zucchini: you may adjust this recipe to use any size zucchini, although large zucchinis tend to have a higher moisture content and may benefit from salting and then resting for 15-20 minutes. The zucchini will release some of its excess moisture and can then be drained and patted dry before proceeding.