A favorite seasonal vegetable takes inspiration from a classic sandwich in this wholesome, all-in-one meal enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Easy to make with one zucchini or many.
The annual glut of zucchini and my younger son Christian’s love of tuna melts led to a lightbulb moment last summer.
How good would the tuna mixture that I usually pile onto a piece of bread or English muffin taste in a hollowed-out zucchini half?
The short answer: really good!
(P.S. I have yet to share the classic tuna melt recipe, but you can use the following mixture on toasted bread and then bake or broil to heat through and melt the cheese. And if you have questions, just ask!)
When I first mentioned I was making these, Christian asked if I’d make him one of the traditional melts to have as well. I humored him—it was easy—and subconsciously, I probably didn’t want to hear if this veggie version didn’t stack up to the tuna melt he had long adored.
Happily, he loved the new version. Everyone else did too, and we’ve enjoyed the zucchini melts many times since. Beyond the great taste, I also appreciate the ease of preparation.
Can the zucchini tuna melts be prepared in advance?
The tuna mixture may be prepared up to a day in advance and refrigerated until needed.
The zucchini (summer squash works well, too) can be scooped out and similarly stored in the fridge. Just don’t salt it until you’re ready to place it in the oven…or if you do, drain the moisture that develops and blot dry.
What is the secret to the tuna mixture?
The tuna mixture is surprisingly low on mayonnaise, and it includes some cheese. This ensures the classic tuna melt flavor will carry through to each bite, not just the top layer.
Can the tuna melts be made with any size zucchini–or summer squash?
Zucchini and summer squash work interchangeably in this recipe. And as we all know, both of these vegetables vary greatly in size. I mention a large zucchini (and include a weight to better define that), which will allow for a good zucchini-to-tuna ratio.
The recipe as written serves two–one large half per person, which is filling. The pictures show a double batch.
Feel free to adjust the recipe based on the size of the zucchini you have on hand. (For example, you could use two smaller zucchini.) You may also double the tuna mixture and enjoy what’s leftover as a salad or on another melt (zucchini or bread version) within the next three to four days.
Can I vary the recipe?
You could sprinkle the melts with a little cayenne, paprika, or experiment with different cheeses. The cheddar/mozzarella mix is my go-to, although Christian always likes when I use a Mexican blend. I have not tried these with canned salmon, but it would be interesting to try.
A photo overview of the simple steps:
A short list of basic ingredients creates a flavor-packed filling for the zucchini boats. There isn’t much mayo in the mix, and you may be surprised that you don’t need it and won’t miss it. The tuna mixture may be made in advance and refrigerated. It’s equally great for making classic tuna melts on toasted bread.
I use a spoon (alternatively, a melon baller could be used) to hollow out the zucchini, leaving a border of about ⅓ to ½ inch on all sides. After seasoning with salt and pepper, the zucchini shells are baked until just short of tender.
Evenly fill the halves with the tuna mixture.
Then sprinkle with the shredded cheddar and return to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the tuna is hot throughout and the cheese is melted.
If desired, you may place on the top rack of the oven for the last few minutes to lightly brown the cheese. Or broil for a minute or so, watching very closely so as not to burn.
One large half (or two small) makes a filling serving. I often serve with a simple salad or a side of sliced, vine-ripened tomatoes, drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar.
The crisp-tender zucchini or squash make wholesome “boats” for the flavor-packed tuna mixture. The cheesy topping can be broiled to golden perfection.
Zucchini Tuna Melts
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:22 minutes
Total Time:37 minutes
Yield:2 servings (recipe easy to scale up)
Naturally gluten-free, low in carbs, and high in flavor, Zucchini Tuna Melts are a deliciously fun way to enjoy a seasonal abundance of zucchini and summer squash.
1 large (12–16-oz) or 2 small (6–8-oz) zucchini or summer squash
1 (5-ounce) can tuna, well drained and flaked (I use water-packed; oiled-packed is fine too)
2 tablespoons finely diced celery
1 tablespoon minced green onion (could substitute sweet onion, shallot, or chives)
1 scant tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
1 teaspoon (5g) Dijon mustard (may use an equal amount of sriracha instead)
2 tablespoons (26g) mayonnaise
¼ cup (1oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste (I use ⅛ teaspoon each for the tuna mixture plus a pinch for the unstuffed zucchini)
¼ to ⅓ cup (1- 1⅓oz) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
For the tuna mixture: In a mixing bowl, combine the tuna, celery, green onion, optional capers, Dijon, mayo, shredded mozzarella, and ⅛ teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper. Mix until combined. Advance prep tip: the tuna mixture may be prepared up to one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Preheat the oven to 375℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 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. (Discard this or save for another use.)
Arrange the zucchini shells on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the insides of the zucchini with a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until just short of tender. Remove the zucchini from the oven.
Evenly fill the halves with the tuna mixture, and then sprinkle with the shredded cheddar. Return to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the tuna is hot throughout and the cheese is melted. If desired, you may place on the top rack of the oven for the last few minutes to lightly brown the cheese. Or broil for a minute or so, watching very closely so as not to burn. Enjoy!
Leftovers may be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days and gently warmed in the oven or microwave.
For those who use a kitchen scale, the weight of the tuna mix is ~195g so plan on adding 96g per large zucchini half (or 48g per English muffin half if you’d like to make a traditional melt on toasted bread).