Italian stuffed zucchini boats with ground beef (or a vegan alternative!) are a simple, hearty, delicious, high-protein, low-carb, gluten-free, family-friendly meal, ready in just 40 minutes!
Last week, I made a massive batch of ground beef sauce to enjoy with spaghetti and lasagna. Now, I’m craving something lighter, which is where these low-carb Italian stuffed zucchini boats come in!
This ground beef stuffed zucchini recipe is made with simple, inexpensive ingredients, fuss-free prep, and is ready in just 40 minutes. Not to mention, it’s super versatile and a family-approved way to use up a summer glut of zucchini from your garden!
What Is a Zucchini Boat
To make zucchini boats, zucchini are first halved and hollowed – they will look like small green boats. They are then stuffed with a savory filling and baked.
In this case, I’ve decided on simple yet delicious Italian zucchini boats with ground beef (vegan alternatives included below). The stuffing for these baked zucchini boats combines Italian seasoned ground beef, marinara sauce, and cheese for lasagna vibes, minus all carb-heavy pasta.
However, what’s impressive is that this recipe for zucchini boats acts as a base for several flavorful stuffing options. You just need to make a few ingredient swaps or additions. These include zucchini lasagna boats or taco zuccini boats, etc. Keep reading for my favorite flavor combination and optional ingredient add-ins!
This easy stuffed zucchini boat recipe relies on less than 10 ingredients for this hearty and nutritious meal.
The Italian Beef Filling
- Beef: I like to use lean ground beef or a 50/50 mixture of Italian sausage and beef. You could also substitute the beef to make ground turkey zucchini boats.
For meat-free/vegan zucchini boats recipes, use soy mince, tofu crumbles, or another ground meat alternative.
- Aromatics: You’ll need onion and garlic to add depth of flavor to the ground meat.
- Marinara sauce: I use homemade marinara sauce, but store-bought Marinara or Bolognese sauce is fine, too.
- Seasoning: I used a simple combination of Italian seasoning and salt and pepper (added to taste).
If you don’t have (and can’t make) Italian seasoning, you could use a selection of herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, parsley, etc.
- Olive oil: Or another neutral cooking oil.
Alternatively, if you have pre-made meaty spaghetti sauce in your freezer, you can skip all the above ingredients, save time, and use that instead.
The Other Ingredients
- Zucchini: Look for medium zucchini (or yellow squash) that are similar in shape and size.
- Cheese: I used shredded mozzarella cheese this time, though sharper cheddar or saltier parmesan cheese will also work. Alternatively, you could use vegan mozzarella (in slices or shredded), cheddar, or a generous sprinkle of nutritional yeast.
- Fresh basil or parsley: (Optional) to garnish.
Optional Extra Veggies: To boost the nutritional content of this stuffed zucchini recipe further, you could “sneak” extra veggies into the meat and sauce mixture, like:
- Finely grated carrot
- Thinly sliced mushrooms
- Finely diced red bell peppers
How to Make Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Step 1: Prepare the Zucchini
First, wash, dry, remove the stem, and cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Also, preheat the oven to 400 ºF/200ºC.
Then, use a spoon to remove the zucchini flesh – the softer, seedy core from the middle of each section, leaving a sturdy edge.
Transfer the zucchini shells to a large parchment-paper-lined baking dish and brush or spray them with oil. Then bake them for 15 minutes to soften. For larger zucchini, or if you prefer them softer, bake for up to 20 minutes.
Step 2: Cook the Italian Filling
First, finely dice the onion and mince the garlic. Then, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for a minute or two.
Then, add the meat and allow it to brown, breaking it into little pieces as it cooks. Once browned, add all the seasonings and stir well.
If you prefer to drain the excess fat from the meat, do so before the next step). You could also mix the marinara with the meat now instead of layering it as written in the next step.
If wanted, you can also mince and add the seedy core to the mince filling. You can also freeze it and then add it to smoothies (yes, you can eat zucchini raw), soups, and stews for extra nutrition.
Step 3: Assemble and Bake the Ground Beef Zucchini Boats
To assemble the zucchini boats with ground beef, divide the meat mixture evenly between the zucchini halves. Then, spoon over the tomato sauce, and top it off with the (optional) shredded cheese.
Place them back in the oven for 15 minutes until bubbly, and the zucchini is fork/knife-tender. Finally, remove the Italian zucchini boats from the oven, garnish with parsley, and enjoy!
What to Serve with Zucchini Boats
You can enjoy one of these baked stuffed zucchini boats on its own or with side dishes like:
- Garlic bread or baguette
- Grains – like rice or quinoa
- Air fryer or roasted cauliflower and broccoli
- Corn on the cob
- A simple leafy green side salad
Other simple salads also pair well with this simple stuffed zucchini. These include chopped Greek salad, Italian heirloom tomato salad, or a simple avocado cucumber tomato salad.
How to Reheat Zucchini Boats?
You can reheat these stuffed zucchini boats in the microwave (between 1 ½- 2 ½ minutes) or the oven (10-15 minutes).
The process takes around 30 minutes of oven-baking time, in two parts. First, just the zucchini, and then the assembled Italian zucchini boats.
I usually use lean ground beef and don’t drain the fat. However, if you’re using fattier meat, feel free to drain it.
Absolutely. In that case, I recommend chopping thick round slices and scooping out flesh from the top (like a little cup/bowl).
More Zucchini Recipes
- Simple sautéed zucchini
- Air fryer zucchini fries
- Crispy zucchini fritters/ pancakes
- How to make and cook zoodles
If you try this recipe for stuffed zucchini boats with ground beef, I’d love to hear your thoughts/questions below. Also, I’d appreciate a recipe card rating below, and feel free to tag me in your recipe recreations on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
Stuffed Zucchini Boats
- 1.8 lb zucchini 3 medium-sized
- 8.8 oz lean minced beef OR vegan soy mice, tofu crumbles, or other mince alternative
- 3.2 oz onion 1 medium-sized
- 0.1 oz garlic 1 clove
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup marinara sauce OR bolognese sauce
- 2.8 oz mozzarella 1/2 cup shredded; OR cheddar or parmesan. Or use dairy-free alternative and/or nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup olive oil or another neutral cooking oil
- parsley OR basil to garnish
Step 1: Prepare the Zucchini
- Wash, dry, remove the stem and cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Also, preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.
- Use a spoon to remove the softer, seedy core from the middle of each section, leaving a sturdy edge.
- Transfer the zucchini shells to a large parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and brush or spray them with oil. Then bake them for 15 minutes to soften.
Step 2: Cook the Italian Filling
- Finely dice the onion and mince the garlic.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, and sauté for a minute or two.
- Add the meat and allow it to brown, breaking it into little pieces as it cooks. Once browned, add all the seasonings and stir well.If you prefer to drain the excess fat from the meat, do so before the next step). You could also mix the marinara with the meat now instead of layering it as written in the next step.
Step 3: Assemble and Bake the Zucchini Boats
- To assemble the zucchini boats with ground beef, divide the meat mixture evenly between the zucchini halves, spoon over the tomato sauce, and top it off with the (optional) shredded cheese.
- Place them back in the oven for 15 minutes until bubbly, and the zucchini is fork/knife-tender. Finally, remove the zucchini boats from the oven, garnish with parsley, and enjoy!
- Make ahead: You can prepare the meat filling 2-3 days in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. You can also assemble the stuffed zucchinis up to a day in advance, covered tightly, in the fridge. Then bake them when ready, adding 3-5 minutes to the baking time.Store: Allow the stuffed zucchini to cool, then store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.I don't recommend freezing these ground beef zucchini boats, as the texture of the zucchini will become overly watery and mushy upon thawing. However, the meat and sauce combination will freeze in Ziplock bags for up to 2 months.How to Reheat Zucchini Boats?You can reheat these zucchini boats in the microwave (between 1 ½- 2 ½ minutes) or the oven (10-15 minutes).
- Forming the zucchini boats: It’s important not to remove too much of the zucchini flesh. Otherwise, the boats may fall apart when baking them.
- Brown the beef well: This means extra flavor.
- For firmer zucchini: Only cook the empty zucchini boats for 5-10 minutes before adding the filling.
- To avoid the zucchini boats toppling: You can either pack them fairly tight in your baking dish/tray so they hold each other up. Or, if there’s a particularly wobbly piece, use your knife or a vegetable peeler to shave a very thin layer from the bottom to make it sit straight.
- To make a stuffed zucchini casserole: Spread a layer of marinara sauce with the scooped-out zucchini into the bottom of a baking dish, add the stuffed zucchini boats over the top, and then sprinkle the entire thing with cheese before baking.
- Adjust the baking time: According to the size of the zucchini.
- Zucchini lasagna boats: Add a layer of ricotta cheese (or vegan almond ricotta) beneath the beef layer. You could optionally also add a small amount of bechamel sauce to the top of each boat before adding the cheese.
- Keto zucchini boats: As long as you use a low-carb marinara sauce, I think this recipe is naturally low-carb/zucchini.
- Taco stuffed zucchini: Swap out the Italian seasoning for taco seasoning instead, use cheddar or Monterey jack, and load up the baked stuffed zucchini with your favorite toppings like diced tomato or salsa, avocado, corn, beans, cilantro, etc.
- Zucchini burrito boats: Similar to the above, but also add beans (black or pinto) to the stuffing and, optionally, some rice.
- Grain: Mix in cooked grains like brown rice or quinoa for a heartier filling.
- Extra veggies: To boost the nutritional content of this recipe further, you could “sneak” extra veggies into the meat and sauce mixture, like:
- Finely grated carrot
- Thinly sliced mushrooms
- Finely diced bell peppers
- Spice: There are several ways to add spice, including red pepper flakes or chili/ cayenne powder. Adjust the amount to taste.
- Breadcrumbs: To add a slight crunch with minimal extra carbs, you could sprinkle bread crumbs (regular, gluten-free, panko) over the stuffed zucchini and broil them at the end.