It’s high summer and a glut of fat zucchini is piled high on my cutting board. No, I do not have a garden, but my neighbor does, and I often ask myself, why, oh, why do we do this every summer?
But it is a summer rite, so let’s go with the flow. We WILL conquer that crush of zucchini!
Easy Vegetarian Zucchini Roll-Ups
A bit like cannelloni but using thin slices of zucchini instead of pasta, these roll-ups warrant center stage for a vegetarian supper, especially when you need a break from "everything grilled." You can also make these ahead!
I first made similar roll-ups to these with small eggplants back when I did have a garden, so I set about giving zucchini that role (roll? ha ha) in my summer repertoire this year.
What’s the Best Zucchini for the Job?
Look for large, fat zucchini that weigh just under a pound.
Once sliced, the zucchini will need a little time in a hot oven so they soften just enough to become pliable. Zucchini is a bit delicate, so be careful not to overcook the slices in the oven or they will become too soft and fall apart while rolling
When rolling the slices, use a light touch. Don’t stress too much about making perfect rolls. They tend to fall into line when you tuck them into the baking dish.
Make Your Own Quick Tomato Sauce
While the zucchini is softening in the oven, make a quick tomato sauce on the stovetop using canned tomatoes to pour over the zucchini rolls in the baking dish. When I make this sauce, I start warming the oil and the garlic in the pan at the same time. This keeps the garlic from burning and softens it just enough to infuse the oil with garlic before you add the tomatoes.
You could also make the sauce with a few fresh summer tomatoes. Remove the skins (place them in a colander in the sink and pour boiling water over them to loosen them) and chop them in a food processor to the desired consistency. Cook in olive oil in a skillet with a little chopped garlic for about 10 minutes, to reduce excess liquid.
How to Make Zucchini Roll-Ups
After the sauce is ready, it’s just an assembly job. Roll the zucchini with a ricotta filling, then arrange them in a baking dish with the tomato sauce poured over top. Bake immediately, or cover and refrigerate for a day or two.
If you make these ahead, just allow a few minutes longer in the oven than directed in the recipe so the roll-ups and sauce have time to heat all the way through. If you like, you could also serve these rolls over pasta or polenta.
More Ways to Enjoy Lasagna!
- Vegetarian Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna
- Three-Cheese Pesto Lasagna
- Buffalo Chicken Lasagna
- Lasagna Bolognese
- Four-Cheese Lasagna with Fresh Pasta
Zucchini Lasagna Roll-Ups
- For the zucchini:
- 3 large (fat) zucchini (2 1/2 to 3 pounds total)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, or olive oil spray
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes, crushed in a bowl with your hands
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large basil leaves, torn into pieces
- For the filling:
- 1 cup fresh ricotta
- 3/4 cup grated freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for the topping
- 1 large egg
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 20 to 30 basil leaves
Pre-cook the zucchini:
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper and coat lightly with cooking spray or oil.
Cut a half-inch or so off of each end of the zucchini. Then cut a long, thin vertical slice from one side -- the goal is to have a flat surface so the zucchini will be stable as you slice. Lay the zucchini cut-side down.
Next, trim the peel from both sides, which will make the slices easier to roll up later on. Leave the top peel intact to provide a little color to your dish.
Finally, cut each zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices (a ruler helps -- the slices are thicker than you might expect!) You ultimately want 12 slices total for this dish.
Lay the slices on the sheet pans. Brush or spray the top of the slices with olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the slices have softened just enough to be pliable and are slightly transparent -- check the zucchini slices frequently as they bake.
Remove from the oven and set aside until cooled. Lower the oven temperature to 400°F.
Make the sauce:
In a wide saucepan, combine the olive oil and garlic and set the pan over medium heat.
Let the garlic sizzle for about 20 seconds, and then add the tomatoes, salt, sugar, and pepper. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat to a simmer.
Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly (precise time will vary depending on the brand of tomatoes you use). Taste and add more salt and sugar, if you like. Stir in the basil leaves.
Make the ricotta filling:
In a medium bowl, stir the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt, pepper, nutmeg, pepper and parsley together.
Assemble the roll-ups:
In a medium (8x10) baking dish, spread about 1 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom.
With the zucchini still on the baking sheet, spread about 1 tablespoon of the ricotta filling over each slice. Place a couple of basil leaves on top of the filling. Roll the slices into cylinders and set them in the baking dish with the seam sides down.
Spoon more tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle with more Parmesan. If you want to make these ahead of time, you can refrigerate them, covered, for up to a day.
Bake the roll-ups:
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the sauce bubbles. Let the zucchini rolls rest for a few minutes. Use a large spoon to scoop the rolls into shallow bowls for serving. Serve with crusty bread and a salad if you like.