~ This Stuffed Zucchini Boats Casserole is such easy, healthy comfort food! You don’t even have to pre-cook the quinoa – just mix up the yummy quinoa base right in your baking dish, then top with sausage-filled, stuffed zucchini boats! A sprinkling of Italian cheeses, and dinner’s in the oven in no time! Even better – you can prep it almost entirely ahead! ~
This Recipe: • Includes Make-Ahead Steps • Gluten Free •
You know we LOVE shortcuts here at THK.
Shortcuts are often the key to making dinnertime doable, and today we’ve got shortcuts galore! Yay!
Shortcuts for Our Zucchini Casserole
We’ve got four shortcuts here, right off the bat, because we’re:
1) Skipping the quinoa pre-cooking step. That nutritious little superhero cooks happily along with everything else. No need to cook it separately ahead of time!
2) Mixing things together right in the baking pan, so there’s no separate mixing bowl needed.
3) Tucking so many veggies into the casserole itself, that you really don’t even need to make a veggie side dish if you’re short on time. Hurray … meal-in-one!
4) Offering up the option to prep this ahead, so when the hectic dinner hour rolls around, you can pop this casserole in the oven and walk away (to help with algebra or to start scrubbing grass stains out of baseball uniforms … whatever is looming on your evening’s to-do list).
No doubt – those are four mighty fine shortcuts, indeed!
They save time, and they save on the amount of dishes you’re gonna find waiting for you in the sink, later. Score!
Remember our yummy Chicken Fajita Quinoa Bake? Mmmmmmm … yeah. Love that one! (If you haven’t tried it, circle back and put that on next week’s dinner rotation list.) We tapped into all the same mix-it-in-the-pan, no-precooking magic from that Fajita Bake when we created this Zucchini Casserole. You’ll love ’em both!
And really, it’s also pretty much the same premise as in our Pizza Pasta Bake. Again – just mix it up right in the pan, pop it in the oven, and move on!
The goal is minimizing prep work, minimizing extra bowls and pans, and just making everything more streamlined.
A crazy-simple technique, but you still get big, delicious flavors and a satisfying, hearty meal that’s packed with protein, veggies and fiber.
And hey – while we’re talking nutrition, can we dig just a little deeper into the nutritional awesomeness here?
Nutrition-Packed Zucchini Boats for the Win!
Besides being a snap to make, this Stuffed Zucchini Casserole is just all kinds of healthy. We had those four shortcuts, and now we’re comin’ at ya with four great nutritional wins. So totally THK-ish, right?!?
In just one little 9×13 baking dish, look at all that’s happening:
1) Loads of Veggies! – Well, of course! I mean, we’re making zucchini boats here, right? So you’ve obviously got a terrific base of veggies right there.
Plus, there’s a whole can of lycopene-loaded tomatoes stirred into the quinoa. (Studies have shown that cooking/processing tomatoes, like in canned tomato products and salsas or sauces, actually amps up the bioavailability and potency of the tomatoes’ lycopene.)
So like I mentioned above, you really don’t even need to serve a veggie side dish with this casserole if you don’t want to. It’s pretty much a meal-in-one. Sure, a lovely green salad would be a terrific addition, and we’re always fans of MORE veggies at the table, but this recipe has ya covered if there’s no time to churn out side dishes.
2) Fiber! – Because, you know … veggies! Plus, all that quinoa. For more deets on quinoa nutrition (hint: gluten-free, fiber-packed, protein-loaded powerhouse) hop over to our post on How to Cook Quinoa (and Why You Should!).
3) Protein! – Again, a shout-out to quinoa here: an ancient grain that’s still got it alllll goin’ on … including the fact that it’s one of the only plants that has all the amino acids needed to be a complete protein.
And, the yummy Italian turkey sausage not only offers great flavor, but also another source of protein.
4) Reduced fat – Using turkey sausage instead of regular pork sausage slashes the fat without compromising flavor. We use turkey sausage in lots of our recipes – it’s an easy swap that has big nutritional payoffs.
Similarly, grabbing reduced-fat shredded cheeses also helps a bit with calories and fat (and specifically with undesirable saturated fat), but still gives you that melty cheese experience. We don’t usually use fat-free cheese for a variety of reasons (including weird additives, and flavor and textural issues), but reduced-fat products are a typical go-to for us.
Basically, this is a one-dish wonder that’s got the protein and fiber you need to keep you powered up and feeling full, plus plenty of quality, plant-based antioxidants and fiber, too.
So to recap … this recipe is full of great shortcuts, and loaded with terrific nutrition you’ll feel great about serving up. What more do you need to know?!?
How about … is it delicious? (Because why would you bother making it, if it wasn’t?!?)
The Stuffed Zucchini Boats Yum-Factor
This casserole’s got family-pleasin’ Italian flavor layered throughout, from the Italian spices we stir into the quinoa, to the Italian turkey sausage we use to stuff the zucchini, right on through to the blend of Italian cheeses sprinkled on top.
And, it also offers a great range of textures. There’s the base of chewy little quinoa grains and the silky-soft stuffed zucchini with the hearty addition of tender sausage, plus the ooey-gooey-bubbly-toasty cheese topping.
It’s all just so lovely together, and truly feels like a complete meal filled with all of the components, flavors and textures you’re craving … packed into one simple pan.
We love this, and I’ve made it a lot at our house through the years – I’m so happy we’re finally sharing it with you today!
Make It Your Own!
Even though my family adores this zucchini casserole recipe just as I’ve written it, there are plenty of ways to change it up, to customize it to your family’s tastes.
• Spice It Up! – If you like a spicier meal, grab hot Italian turkey sausage to make your zucchini boats, instead of using milder sweet Italian sausage.
• Play with the Proportions – If you want a more meat-focused dish, you can use slightly smaller zucchini so you’ve got a bit more sausage piled on each zucchini boat. For the most veggie-nutrition, though, we recommend maximizing the zukes. You still get plenty of sausage flavor, even though you’re using proportionally more veggies.
Basically, the main thing to know here is that you don’t need to sweat it if the zucchinis you find at the farm market or in your garden aren’t the EXACT size we specify – you’ve got a little wiggle room to use slightly bigger or smaller zucchinis to make your zucchini boats. As long as they fit in the pan, you’re good to go!
• Adjust the “Doneness” – You definitely want to be sure that your quinoa is cooked through. Beyond that, though, you can let your casserole bake a tiny bit longer or a tiny bit shorter, depending on how al dente or tender you like your zucchini, and on how browned you prefer the cheese topping.
If you don’t want your cheese to be browned much at all, you can opt to leave the foil on throughout the entire baking process.
Alternately, if you feel like the quinoa is done and your zucchini is perfect, but you’d like to develop an even more blistery-browned cheese topping, you could run the casserole (uncovered) under the broiler for a minute or two.
Hey – you’ve got options! Make it your way!
Comfort Food, Any Time of Year
One last thing that’s terrific about this particular recipe: it defies seasonality. It’s a perfect go-to, any time of year.
Sure, it’s a warm and cozy casserole that’s hearty enough to satisfy you in the cooler months. (And, zukes are readily available at most grocery stores all year long, even mid-winter.)
But, since it’s got that whole zucchini thing goin’ on … it’s a recipe of choice when summer’s zucchini season hits its peak and neighbors are sneaking zucchini onto each other’s porches, just to manage the overflow. When you just can’t make one more loaf of zucchini bread, make this! It’ll power you up and keep you feeling full, without weighing you down on warm summer evenings.
This recipe will be your new fave, any time of year.
I can’t wait for you to try it! Enjoy!
- 1 1/2 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa (rinsed if needed – see note)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 zucchini, each approximately 6-8 inches in length, about 2 pounds total (see note)
- 8 ounces sweet Italian turkey sausage (bulk, or links with casings removed)
- 1/2 cup reduced-fat shredded Italian cheese blend
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In an ungreased 9x13 baking pan, combine broth, tomatoes with their juice, uncooked quinoa, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and salt. Stir until thoroughly combined.
Trim off both ends of each zucchini, and cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Top each zucchini half with a thin layer of the sausage, pressing a bit of sausage all along each piece of zucchini. Lay each sausage-topped zucchini half, cut side up, in the baking dish, lined up side-by-side.
Sprinkle Italian cheese blend on top of the sausage (it's ok if a bit of it falls down onto the quinoa mixture, but you're trying to get most of it piled on top of the sausage). Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the entire casserole.
Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking, uncovered, for about 25 minutes more, until quinoa is cooked through and cheese is golden brown.
Quinoa: If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, then before you add it to the casserole, you will need to rinse it in a sieve, swishing it with your fingers until the water runs clear. We always look for pre-rinsed brands to save that step.
Zucchini: As mentioned in the post, you don't have to be exactly precise with the size of your zucchini, as long as they fit nicely into your baking dish. You can also choose to use proportionately more or less zucchini (compared to the amount of sausage) depending on your tastes and how meat-focused you want your final dish to be. Note that the smaller zucchini we specify shouldn't need to be seeded before they're stuffed, but if you're using sections taken from much larger zucchini, you may need to remove the seeds.
Make-ahead tips: You can completely assemble this casserole earlier in the day, then cover and refrigerate it until you're ready to bake it at dinnertime.