Stuffed zucchini is a delicious, complete summer meal loaded with savory ground beef, melty mozzarella, and your favorite marinara sauce. Totally irresistible!
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If you have a garden during the summer, there’s a point in the season when you’re absolutely desperate to use zucchini any way you can. Fried Zucchini! Zucchini Bread! Zucchini Casserole! But if you haven’t made stuffed zucchini yet, you’re missing out!
Think of this simple stuffed zucchini recipe as kind of like a pizza. The zucchini is the crust, the homemade tomato sauce and tender meat filling go in next, and then the whole dish is topped with tasty mozzarella cheese. Of course, stuffed zucchini is much more nutritious than pizza, so you can feel good about eating it all summer long!
Italian Stuffed Zucchini Recipe
Going to local farmers’ markets and “shopping” in my garden are two of my favorite things about summer. Fresh zucchini is definitely one of the hallmarks of the season and I try to cook it as often as possible. Making this stuffed zucchini recipe is the perfect way to use fresh zucchini in a tasty, kid-pleasing way.
I also love that stuffed zucchini is a complete meal. There are veggies, protein, and plenty of cheese all in one recipe. No need to make any extra side dishes here! Of course, you should probably make a summertime dessert to cap off a perfect meal. Stuffed zucchini for dinner with a strawberry pie for dessert sounds like the best meal ever!
(Looking for a savory zucchini recipe that comes together a little bit faster? You’ll love my Sautéed Zucchini and Tomatoes!)
Ingredients for Stuffed Zucchini
See recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Zucchini – A medium-sized zucchini will weigh about 8 ounces. Make sure the skin is a nice, dark green. Straight zucchini, without any curves, will work best for this recipe.
- Ground beef – I like to use 80/20 ground beef, which has 20% fat. The extra fat in the ground beef helps make tender, juicy zucchini boats. Feel free to use leaner meat if desired.
- Red bell peppers – I like red bell peppers, which are sweet and add a nice pop of color.
- White onion
- Garlic – One teaspoon of minced garlic is about one large clove of garlic.
- Marinara sauce – Any brand of marinara sauce will work! I like sauce that is a little chunky so the the stuffed zucchini has some nice tomato pieces.
- Olive oil
- Shredded mozzarella
- Parmesan cheese
Here are a few ingredient alterations and substitutions that will work well.
- Try using ground turkey or ground chicken in place of ground beef. Both options will work well!
- Grab a pasta sauce that already contains beef to save a little time. Skip the ground beef portion of the recipe and just use the meat sauce instead.
- Use yellow squash in place of zucchini for a whole new twist on stuffed zucchini boats. Yellow squash has a more mild, sweet flavor that is quite delicious.
How to Make Stuffed Zucchini
- Prepare: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and grease a 9×13 baking dish.
- Prep the zucchini: Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out the center of the zucchini using a spoon. Place the zucchini boats in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle them with a little salt.
- Cook the filling: Cook the ground beef in a large skillet, breaking it apart into small crumbles as it cooks. Drain some of the fat from the skillet, then add the peppers, onions, and garlic. Stir the and cook for 4 more minutes.
- Add the sauce: Pour the marinara sauce and basil into the skillet and stir well.
- Dry the zucchini: Pat the zucchini boats with a paper towel, then brush them with olive oil.
- Stuff the zucchini: Scoop the saucy beef into the zucchini boats, overflowing the boats and adding as much filling into each zucchini as possible.
- Bake: Bake the stuffed zucchini for 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the zucchini with the cheeses, and bake for another 10 minutes.
- Eat: Enjoy stuffed zucchini while hot!
Make vegetarian zucchini boats by replacing ground beef with 1 1/2 cups of cooked brown rice. Stuffed zucchini with rice is filling, tasty, and completely vegetarian-friendly. I absolutely love this variation!
How to Store Stuffed Zucchini
If you have any leftover stuffed zucchini, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Reheat the stuffed zucchini in the microwave, heating in 30 second increments.
Stuffed zucchini does not freeze well, so I recommend enjoying it fresh, if possible.
Yes! Keep the skin on the zucchini when cooking. Not only does the skin have lots of nutrients, it also helps the zucchini keep its shape as it cooks. The skin is tender and flavorful so you should definitely leave it on.
Zucchini seeds are edible, so you don’t need to remove them when cooking. This stuffed zucchini recipe does scoop out the seeds in order to make the vegetable hollow, allowing extra space to stuff it with filling. So, while the seeds are okay to eat, this specific recipe does remove them.
Yes! Salting the zucchini before baking helps extract some of the water from the vegetable. This helps it keep its shape as it bakes and prevents it from getting soggy. Salt the zucchini, let it rest, and then pat it dry to get rid of all that extra water.
- 4 medium zucchini
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 red bell pepper, seeds removed, chopped
- ½ cup chopped white onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ¼ cup chopped basil
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.
- Slice the zucchinis in half lengthwise, then use a spoon to scoop out the center seeds, making a long well in each zucchini. Place the hollowed zucchini halves in the greased pan.
- Sprinkle the zucchini with the salt and set them aside.
- Add the ground beef to a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat until it is no longer pink (about 8 minutes). Break up the beef as it cooks with a wooden spoon, making small crumbles.
- Drain the fat from the pan of cooked beef and discard.
- Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic to the pan and stir. Cook for 4 minutes to soften the onions and peppers.
- Stir the marinara sauce into the pan of beef and add the basil. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Use a paper towel to pat the zucchini boats dry, absorbing the water on the zucchini.
- Brush the zucchini with the olive oil.
- Scoop the beef and sauce into each zucchini boat, stuffing each zucchini as much as possible.
- Bake the stuffed zucchini for 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the zucchini with the parmesan and mozzarella cheese, and return the pan to the oven. Bake the zucchini for another 10 minutes. The cheese will be melted and starting to brown.
- Enjoy the zucchini while hot as a complete meal!