Zucchini lasagna roll-ups put the summer squash to work

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Zucchini is among the most prolific of summer vegetables, in large part because it’s so easy for even beginner gardeners to grow. It’s especially popular here in Pittsburgh, where thin, fried ribbons of the thin-skinned squash served with a side of marinara sauce made its tasty debut in the 1950s, and is now considered a classic appetizer in red sauce Italian restaurants.

But what if you’re looking for something that tastes a little more seasonal?

This vegetarian lasagna exemplifies summer by pairing super-thin slices of zucchini with a super-simple tomato sauce and lots of creamy ricotta. Only instead of layering the “noodles” in a stack, they’re rolled up, egg roll-style. The result is a low-carb, no-cal dish that’s both colorful and healthful.

Using a mandoline is the easiest way to create thin, even slices of zucchini (go slow, and watch your fingers!), but you also could also use a sharp knife if you have nimble hands. Depending on how tightly you pack the lasagna pan, you may have enough zucchini and filling to make an extra half pan of roll-ups — I did.

I used olive oil infused with Calabrian chili peppers for a little extra oomph. So good!

Thinly sliced zucchini stands in for pasta noodles in these vegetarian lasagna roll-ups. For a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender to puree the marinara.

Zucchini Lasagna Roll-ups

For marinara

  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper

For lasagna

  • 4-5 large zucchini
  • Salt and pepper
  • 16-ounce container ricotta
  • 11/2 cup shredded mozzarella, divided
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided, plus more for passing
  • 1 large egg
  • Handful fresh basil, sliced very thin
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Make marinara sauce: In a medium saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the tomatoes (with their juices), onion, whole garlic cloves, olive oil and oregano. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low. Simmer sauce for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it is thick and fragrant. Remove onion and then smoosh the cooked garlic with a fork and then stir into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep slightly chunky or puree with an immersion blender if you like your sauce smooth. (Sauce can be made a day or two ahead of time and refrigerated.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, slice zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick strips, sprinkle with a little salt, then place strips in a colander or on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain for at least 15 minutes. (This will draw out any excess water.)

In a small bowl, stir together ricotta, 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, basil and pepper flakes. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

Rinse zucchini under cold water then spread out on paper towels and pat dry. Depending on the length of the strips, you may want to cut each in half. (I used 6-inch strips of zucchini for the roll-ups.)

Spread enough marinara to cover the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (about 1/3 cup). Spoon about1 tablespoon of ricotta mixture on top of a zucchini slice, then roll up until tightly closed. Place in baking dish. Repeat with remaining zucchini slices, making sure the roll-ups are packed together closely. When dish is full, cover roll-ups with 1 cup marinara sauce, or more if you like a saucy lasagna.

Sprinkle the zucchini rolls with remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake until zucchini is tender and cheese has melted and turned golden in spots, about 20 minutes. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad, and more grated Parmesan for passing.

Serves 6-8.

— Gretchen McKay