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Baked Zucchatoni

Makes: 8 servings

Total carbohydrates: 15 grams per serving

Active Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 ½ hours

This is like a cross between an unfussy lasagna and a baked ziti: cheesy, rich, and deeply satisfying, despite the actual absence of noodles. Even my daughter, who tends to be totally skeptical about “fake vegetable pasta dishes,” loves it. Don’t be daunted by the ribboning of the zucchini with a vegetable peeler: it honestly doesn’t take that long, and the resulting strands are thinner and wider and just generally more noodle-like than what you’d get with a spiralizer. That said, if you want to start with a pound of zoodles, go ahead – just be sure to salt and drain them really, really well or the resulting dish will be watery. One last thing: if you’d prefer a meat sauce, go ahead and brown a pound of ground beef after you sauté the onions and before you add the tomatoes – and expect the dish to feed more people that way.

Ingredients

3 medium-sized zucchinis (around 1 pound)

2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt), divided, plus more as needed

¼ cup olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)

1 (28-ounce) can tomato purée or crushed tomatoes

Black pepper

1 (16-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup grated parmesan

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 pound whole-milk mozzarella, grated, sliced, or diced

Instructions

  1. Cut the ends off the zucchini, then use a vegetable peeler to shave each one into ribbons. (This is a fun job for a child who won’t shave off their knuckles.) You may need to use a knife to sliver the last stumpy pieces of zucchini. Toss the ribbons with 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and leave them to sit while you make the sauce and filling.

  2. Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat (see note below if you don’t have an oven-proof pot). Sauté the onion and garlic with 1 teaspoon salt until the onion is translucent, around 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and a robust grinding of black pepper, bring to a simmer, and cook on low, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and delicious, around 30 minutes. Taste for salt and add more if it needs it.

  3. Make the filling: In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, cream, half the parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg.

  4. Now heat the oven to 425° Fahrenheit and drain the zucchini: Wrap all of it in a clean dish towel and firmly twist the towel around it until liquid squeezes out. Wring the zucchini until the liquid more or less stops coming out. Not to be a nag, but I cannot overstate how important this step is! You want the zucchini to be dry when you unwrap it, or the dish will end up watery. Fluff it up a little bit with your fingers or use two forks to separate it.

  5. Stir the zucchini into the sauce, then use tongs to take out around 2/3 of it. (I put that part back in the dirty zucchini bowl, which I’ve dumped the liquid out of.) Spread out the sauce and zucchini left in the pot to make an even layer. Dollop with half the ricotta mixture and sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella on top of that. Add half the remaining zucchini in another layer, then dollop with the rest of the ricotta and half of the remaining mozzarella. For the final layer, add the last of the zucchini, and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and the parmesan.

  6. Put the dish in the oven and bake until the edges are bubbling and the top has browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

Note: if you don’t have a Dutch oven or another oven-proof pot, you can cook the sauce in a pan and then layer the dish in a casserole before baking it.

About Catherine

Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop series of mission-driven cooking magazines. This kids’ cooking magazine won the James Beard Publication of the Year award in 2013 – the first non-profit ever to win it – and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Her book "How to Be A Person" was published in 2020. She also helped develop Sprout, a WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as Seasoned, their senior version. They distribute over a million magazines annually, through paid subscriptions, doctor’s offices, schools, and hospitals. Their mission started with obesity as its explicit focus – and has shifted, over the years, to a more holistic one, with health, happiness, and real food at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.

[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]

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