You know what my favorite kitchen gadget is this summer?
A spiralizer, or a spiral vegetable slicer. It’s basically a lathe that lets you turn a cylindrical vegetable such as a zucchini or sweet potato, into “noodles”, or in the case of zucchini, “zoodles”.
I love pasta as much as anyone, but the truth is my body will not cooperate and let me eat as much pasta as I want without undesired consequences.
So, the idea of making noodles with zucchini? Tempting, but could it possibly be as good as pasta?
Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby announce that zucchini noodles, at least cooked the way I’ve prepared them in this casserole, are shockingly good.
This cheesy baked zucchini noodle casserole is like baked spaghetti, but with zucchini noodles instead of spaghetti. The flavor of zucchini is terrific with the tomato, onion, garlic, sausage, and cheeses.
You can even twirl the “zoodles” on your fork! The noodle shape almost tricks your mouth into thinking you are eating spaghetti. But you aren’t. This is gluten-free, low carb, and completely satisfying.
In this version we are adding sweet Italian sausage to the tomato sauce, but you could easily make it vegetarian by using cubed eggplant or sliced mushrooms instead of the sausage.
The main complaint that people have when cooking with zucchini noodles is that they end up mushy. My approach to how to deal with this is to salt the zucchini noodles well and let them drain of their excess moisture.
You can easily get 1/2 cup of zucchini water out of the zucchini just from letting them sit over a colander or sieve. Then, before adding them to the sauce, place the noodles in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze the heck out of them (this technique works with hash browns too).
So, this is my new favorite way to cook with zucchini noodles? Have you experimented with them? Please let me know in the comments what has worked or not worked for you.
Cheesy Baked Zucchini Noodle Casserole Recipe
We are using Italian sausage in the sauce. If you would like to make the sauce vegetarian, you can use either eggplant or mushrooms (or both). If you use eggplant, cube the eggplant into 3/4-inch cubes, salt it and let it drain like the zucchini, squeezing out excess moisture. Then brown it in a tablespoon or two of olive oil in place of the sausage.
If using mushrooms, slice them into 1/4-inch slices and dry sauté them (no added fat, just put the mushrooms into the hot pan), until they have released most of their their moisture, then add them to the tomato sauce.
- 3 pounds zucchini (about 5 to 6 good sized zucchini, enough for 8 to 10 cups of salted zucchini noodles)
- 3 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces Italian sausage (in bulk, out of casings)
- 1 1/2 cups diced onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 Tbsp)
- 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 8 ounces)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Spiralize the zucchini, toss with salt, let drain: Using a spiralizer, use the zucchini to make zucchini noodles (zoodles) with the device, following manufacturer's directions. You should have a generous 8 cups of zucchini noodles.
Place in a colander over a bowl. Snip zucchini noodles with scissors here and there to keep them from tangling too much.
Toss the zoodles with 3 teaspoons of kosher salt. Let the zoodles drain of excess moisture while you make the sauce.
2 Lightly brown the sausage: Coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil. Break up the Italian sausage into small clumps in the pan. Heat on medium heat and gently cook the sausage until it is just cooked through and lightly browned. Remove to a bowl. Discard all but 1 Tbsp of rendered fat.
3 Brown the onions and garlic: In the same pan, add the chopped onion. Cook until softened and lightly colored, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more.
4 Add tomatoes, cooked sausage, then simmer, add basil: Add the canned crushed tomatoes and cooked sausage to the pot with the onions. Bring to a simmer and lower the heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook for 5 to 6 additional minutes.
Stir in thinly sliced basil and 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt.
5 Squeeze moisture out of zoodles: While the sauce is simmering, use a clean dish towel (or several paper towels) to squeeze more moisture out of the zucchini noodles.
6 Add zoodles to sauce, place in casserole: Add the zucchini noodles to the pot with the tomato sausage sauce. Gently stir to combine so that all of the noodles are coated with sauce.
Transfer into an oiled 8x13 casserole dish and spread into an even layer.
7 Top with ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmesan, and bake: Arrange the ricotta in clumps on the casserole. Press the ricotta into the zucchini noodles to penetrate the casserole a bit. Mix the grated mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese together and sprinkle over the top in an even layer.
Bake at 350°F, uncovered, for 35 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and bubbly. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
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