Cheesy Zucchini Casserole Is Like Low-Carb Lasagna

This zucchini lasagna isn’t a recipe to make on the hottest day of the year; join me in having watermelon for dinner that night instead. Save this one — cozy and hearty, but not so heavy that you’ll have to pass up a post-dinner ice cream run — for a cool, rainy summer evening when you can crank the oven.

To avail you of your CSA zucchini overload, this lasagna swaps thin-sliced zucchini for lasagna noodles. And sans noodles, the emphasis shifts to the best parts of lasagna: the tomato sauce, the cheese, the veg. This lasagna’s garlicky, deep-red marinara sauce is its foundation. You can use a store-bought marinara in a pinch, but this simple sauce (which comes together with just four ingredients!) bubbles happily away on the back burner in the same amount of time it takes to prepare the lasagna’s other two elements: zucchini noodles and cheesy filling.

How to Prepare Zucchini for Lasagna

One of zucchini’s best qualities is its moistness — when you’re grilling, that is, or making a tender quick bread. But when strips of zucchini stand in for noodles (which eagerly absorb tomato sauce and release no moisture of their own), we’ve got to nix some of that moisture before assembling and baking, or else you’ll find it’s tomato-zucchini stew you’re having for dinner. Salting the sliced zucchini helps draw out some of the liquid (and deeply seasons the squash, too). A quick blast in a hot oven does the rest; you’re left with thin, pale “noodles” that are dry to the touch and ready for layering.

While the zucchini noodles bake, you’ll stir together a classic ricotta-mozzarella filling, which gets a summery lift from fresh basil and lemon zest and a dose of brininess from grated pecorino. When it’s time to assemble, you’ll scatter more fresh basil between the layers. Then it’s off to the oven, and you get close to an hour to sip something refreshing and tear through your beach read.

Serve the lasagna in big, messy scoops; you should be able to get a good slice, but because of how moist the zucchini noodles are, the slice won’t be as clean as one made with its pasta counterparts. If you’re not gluten-free or avoiding carbs, a hunk of crusty bread alongside is a welcome addition.

Zucchini Lasagna

Ingredients

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 4 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 2

    (25- to 28-ounce) jars or cans tomato passata or crushed tomatoes

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the zucchini:

  • 3

    large zucchini (about 2 pounds total), ends trimmed

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 16 ounces

    whole-milk ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)

  • 2 ounces

    coarsely grated whole-milk low-moisture mozzarella (about 1/2 cup)

  • 2 ounces

    coarsely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1/4 cup

    finely chopped fresh basil leaves

  • 2 cloves

    garlic, minced, divided

  • 1 teaspoon

    finely grated lemon zest

  • 1

    large egg

  • Freshly ground black pepper

For assembly:

  • 4 ounces

    coarsely grated whole-milk low-moisture mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)

  • 2 ounces

    coarsely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1/2 cup)

  • Olive oil, for the baking dish

  • 4 tablespoons

    thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, divided

Instructions

  1. Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the passata and salt, then use 1/2 cup water to rinse the jars; add that tomatoey water to the saucepan. Simmer gently until the oil rises to the top of the sauce, about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed, then remove from the heat to cool slightly.

  2. Roast the zucchini: Meanwhile, cut the zucchini in half crosswise, then thinly slice each piece lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick planks. Place the zucchini slices in a colander, gently toss with the salt, and set over the sink or a bowl to drain for 15 minutes. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 450°F.

  3. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the zucchini planks between the baking sheets in a single layer, then pat them dry with a paper towel. Roast until the zucchini is dry to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling and prepare for assembly.

  4. Make the filling: Stir all the filling ingredients together in a large bowl.

  5. Prepare for assembly: Stir the remaining mozzarella and Pecorino for assembly together in a medium bowl.

  6. Remove the zucchini from the oven, then lower the temperature to 375°F. Lightly coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with oil.

  7. Spoon in enough tomato sauce to thinly coat the bottom of the dish. Arrange the zucchini planks in two rows down the length of the dish. There may be a bit of space between the rows — that’s okay! Dot with half of the filling mixture and carefully spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the basil, then top with 3/4 cup sauce. Repeat with another layer of zucchini, filling, basil, and sauce. Finish with the remaining zucchini, then top with 3/4 cup sauce (you will have sauce left over). Sprinkle with the mozzarella-Pecorino mixture.

  8. Place the baking dish on a baking sheet. Bake until bubbly and golden-brown, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil before serving.

Recipe Notes

Note: You’ll have about 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce left over after making the lasagna — lucky you! Refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. You can also swap in a jarred marinara sauce for the homemade one above; you’ll need about 4 cups (32 ounces).

Make ahead: You can make and refrigerate the sauce up to 3 days in advance, or assemble the lasagna up to 2 days in advance.

Storage: Refrigerate the lasagna in an airtight container or tightly covered with foil for up to 4 days.

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