An overload of zucchini is a summer tradition that I look forward to with gusto every season. I adore both the challenge of creating unique ways to prepare it and revisiting my absolute favorite zucchini recipes, starting with Stuffed Zucchini.
These zesty stuffed zucchini are packed with Italian-inspired ingredients like Italian turkey sausage, tomatoes, and a shower of basil Parmesan breadcrumbs.
Cheesy, herby, and healthy, they’re a dream (zucchini) boat.<—sorry, couldn’t help myself!
This is one of the earliest recipes I ever posted on my blog. I first made it when I worked in a corporate office and returned to my desk to find a pile of zucchini sitting squarely in the center of my chair, an anonymous “gift” from a coworker with a particularly productive crop.
Years later, this recipe remains one of my favorite meals, and I know many of you still enjoy making it too.
Whether you just planted a plethora of zucchini plants in your own garden, anticipate you’ll be gifted a surplus of zucchini from friends or family, or you simply need a healthy meal idea for dinner tonight, these easy stuffed zucchini boats have you covered.
Stuffed Zucchini – Simple and Impressive
Zucchini boats are an affordable, satisfying dish. They elevate the humble zucchini into a special meal.
While there are as many ways to stuff a zucchini as there are squash to hold the filling, I love this particular recipe because it is jam-packed (literally) with Italian flavors.
The filling is a tasty combination of Italian classics and summer produce heroes: fresh basil, tomato, bell peppers, lean Italian turkey sausage, and Parmesan cheese.
The topping is a mix of whole wheat breadcrumbs, olive oil, more fresh basil, and more Parmesan.
These zucchini boats are hearty and fully flavored, but still fairly light. If you’re looking for something a little more decadent (say, cheese stuffed zucchini boats), try these ultra cheesy Zucchini Pizza Boats instead.
How to Make Stuffed Zucchini
With their combination of lean turkey sausage, veggies both inside and out, and whole grains, these healthy stuffed zucchini boats are an ideal all-in-one dinner. They also reheat beautifully the next day, so you can make a big batch to enjoy a few times throughout the week.
- Zucchini. Zucchini makes an ideal vessel for our scrumptious Italian-inspired ingredients. Plus, it’s rich in Vitamin-A and antioxidants. The best part? You do eat the skin on zucchini boats, so there’s no need to peel the zucchini before eating it.
- Italian Sausage. I used ground Italian turkey sausage, and it was ideal. Turkey is packed with lean protein, and the Italian herbs and spices that are added to the meat give the zucchini boats additional flavor.
- Red Bell Pepper + Red Onion. For beautiful color, more veggies, and complexity.
- Tomato Paste. Tomato paste imparts rich, deep flavor that tastes like you’ve been cooking away all day.
- Basil. A touch of basil adds freshness and a taste of summer sunshine.
- Whole Wheat Bread + Parmesan. For our crispy breadcrumb topping. The recipe does make what will seem like a lot of breadcrumb topping, but trust me, you are going to want it all. As the zucchini bakes, the breadcrumbs transform into a golden, toasty “lid” that I caught myself eating right off the top of the zucchini boats before I’d taken a real bite.
- Prepare the zucchini shells, and place them in a baking dish. (See below for tips on how to hollow out zucchini.)
- Brown the sausage, onion, and bell pepper in a skillet. Add the spices.
- Stir in the garlic and tomato paste, and add the scooped zucchini flesh.
- Prepare the Parmesan basil breadcrumb topping in a food processor.
- Stir half of the breadcrumbs into the sausage mixture. Mound the zucchini shells with the sausage filling, topping each one with the remaining breadcrumbs. Bake at 425 degrees F for 13 to 15 minutes. DIG IN!
How to Hollow Out Zucchini for Zucchini Boats
After cutting each zucchini in half lengthwise, you hollow out zucchini as follows by removing both the seeds and center flesh.
- I like to use the tip of a small spoon or a melon baller to first remove the seeds and discard them. Earlier in the season, small zucchini may have very few seeds, while larger, later season zucchini may have many.
- Once the seeds are discarded, scoop out the center flesh. This I reserve for the zucchini filling.
- I use two fingers to grip the top of the zucchini while I scoop out the flesh. When scooping, be sure to apply enough pressure to remove the flesh but not enough to cut through the bottom.
- To Make Gluten Free. Use gluten-free bread for your breadcrumb topping.
- To Make Dairy Free. Omit the Parmesan, or use nutritional yeast instead.
- To Make Vegetarian. For vegetarian stuffed zucchini, omit the ground turkey. Take a note from my Mushroom Tacos, and try mushroom stuffed zucchini as a “meaty” substitute.
- To Make Vegan. Follow both the vegetarian and dairy-free adaptations above.
- To Make Keto. For a keto stuffed zucchini, omit the breadcrumbs and make sure that your Italian sausage is keto friendly.
- To Store. Store leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm stuffed zucchini in a casserole dish the oven at 350 degrees F until warmed through. If the breadcrumbs start to brown too much, loosely tent the dish with foil. You can also reheat this recipe in the microwave.
- Can You Freeze Stuffed Zucchini? I do not recommend freezing stuffed zucchini, as the zucchini will likely become mushy. Enjoy the leftovers within a few days or give them to friends.
More Delicious Zucchini Recipes
- Zucchini Stir Fry
- Easy Sautéed Zucchini with Parmesan
- Roasted Zucchini
- Healthy Shrimp Scampi with Zucchini Noodles
- Blacked Zucchini Tacos
- Vegetarian Pad Thai with Zoodles
- Plus, all the zucchini recipes in my recipe index.
Recommended Tools to Make Zucchini Boats
- Skillet. A high-quality skillet is an essential tool in my kitchen.
- Spatula. I use this basic spatula ALL the time.
- Extra Large Cutting Board. The extra space is so helpful when preparing the zucchini for this recipe.
- Melon Baller. The perfect tool for hollowing out the zucchini.
Embrace the zucchini surplus this year, and make this five-star stuffed zucchini on repeat.
If you do try this recipe, please let me know what you think in the comments below. I love hearing from you!
Stuffed Zucchini with Sausage and Parmesan
- 4 zucchini 5 to 6 inches long
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
- 1/2 pound ground Italian turkey sausage casings removed
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 large red bell pepper diced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- 2 slices whole wheat sandwich bread
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan plus additional for serving
- Place a rack in the upper third of your oven. Preheat to 425 degrees F.
- Halve the zucchini lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and discard the seeds. Then, scoop out the soft center flesh to create shallow zucchini “shells,” with walls about ½ inch thick, reserving the center flesh. Arrange the zucchini shells in a baking dish. Roughly chop the center flesh and set it aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the sausage, onion, and bell pepper. Using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, break apart the sausage, sautéing it together with the vegetables, until the onions are soft and the sausage is browned and fully cooked, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook 1 additional minute, until tomato paste is broken down and incorporated. Add in the reserved zucchini flesh and heat through for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, or red pepper flakes as desired.
- Toast the bread slices, then tear them into large pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the basil and remaining tablespoon olive oil. Pulse until the bread is broken into large crumbs. Add the Parmesan and pulse just until incorporated, 2 or 3 times.
- Fold half of the basil breadcrumbs into the sausage mixture. With a small spoon, mound the sausage stuffing into the shells, then sprinkle the tops of the stuffed zucchini with the remaining breadcrumbs. Roast in oven until the zucchini is heated through and the breadcrumbs are golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Enjoy immediately.
- Tip: Grate cheese the easy way! Before starting the recipe, grate an entire wedge of Parmesan cheese right in your food processor. Cut the wedge into chunks, place them in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, then pulse until ground. Measure out and set aside the ½ cup needed for the recipe. Store the remainder in your refrigerator for weeks. You'll always have fresh Parm on hand! Then proceed with making the stuffed zucchini, no need to wash the processor bowl in between.
- TO STORE: Store leftovers in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm stuffed zucchini in a casserole dish the oven at 350 degrees F until warmed through. If the breadcrumbs start to brown too much, loosely tent the dish with foil. You can also reheat this recipe in the microwave.
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And just for fun, here’s the original photo: