Zucchini boats stuffed with meat sauce and covered in creamy cheese sauce
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These delicious stuffed zucchini boats are filled with a meaty tomato sauce and topped with a creamy bechamel. It’s my twist on Greek Papoutsakia, which is usually made with eggplant. However, I was at the market when I saw various types of squash in season and immediately thought of this recipe. I couldn’t wait to turn it into a meal, and I even added a layer of roasted potatoes. Potatoes always pair perfectly with any stuffed veggie, and cooking them under my zucchini boats is easy with fewer dishes to clean!
The zucchini boats
- Baking potatoes –cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Choose medium-sized zucchini for this recipe, so they’re big enough to stuff but aren’t too big to get bitter. You could substitute traditional eggplant or yellow squash if you prefer.
Start by cutting the potatoes into ½ inch thick slices, then place them in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over them and season both sides with salt and pepper. Roast them in the preheated oven until fork-tender—about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice the zucchini in half lengthwise, then carefully scoop out the pulp leaving a half-inch border. I like to use a little ice cream scoop or melon baller because it gives me more control when scooping. Chop up the pulp and set it aside to add to the meat sauce later.
When the potatoes come out of the oven, place the zucchini boats on top of the potatoes, then drizzle them with olive oil. Season lightly with salt and bake them for about 10 minutes to soften a little bit.
Why these stuffed zucchini boats will be a weeknight favorite
- Fresh soft zucchini
- Hearty meat sauce
- Creamy bechamel sauce
- A great way to work in your veggies!
The Meat Sauce
- Ground beef
- Onion –finely chopped
- Olive oil
- Crushed tomatoes
- Garlic cloves –grated
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt, or to taste
- Ground black pepper, or to taste
- Dried oregano
- Chopped fresh parsley, optional
I make a version of this meat sauce every week. It’s so versatile, and you can add any ground meat you have on hand. You can even keep this dish vegetarian by making my vegetarian bolognese, also known as my vegetarian “meatless” sauce.
To make the meat sauce, cook the onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft and golden –about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and warm through for a few seconds, then add the ground meat and season with salt and pepper.
Break the beef up and cook until no longer pink, then add the zucchini pulp and cook until softened. Add the crushed tomatoes and the crushed red pepper flakes, and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Then, add the dried oregano and parsley, taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed.
The Béchamel sauce
- Whole milk –whole milk works best, but you can use what you have on hand
- Olive oil –you can also use the same amount of butter
- All-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper
- Nutmeg -I don’t care for too much, so add more if you like
- Grated parmesan cheese
Bechamel sauce is basically a creamy custard, also known as a white cheese sauce that’s so delicious.
Make the béchamel sauce by combining the flour and oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk well while cooking a few minutes until the flour smells toasted. Try not to add the milk all at once because doing so will create lumps. Instead, slowly add the milk in a few batches, whisking to incorporate so that the mixture is smooth and creamy. Cook until it comes to a boil and thickens, then season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
Whisk the eggs together in a bowl, then add a small amount of the hot cream sauce into the eggs while whisking to temper them. Tempering will prevent the eggs from scrambling when added to the cream sauce.
After the eggs have tempered, add them to the cream sauce and whisk well. Then, add the parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
How to assemble Greek Papoutsakia Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Preheat the oven to 400 °F, 200 °C. Create a station with everything you need –pan of zucchini boats on top of potatoes, meat sauce, and béchamel sauce. Fill the zucchini boats with the meat sauce, then pour the bechamel on top of each stuffed zucchini boat.
Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour or until the zucchini is fork-tender.
I love that my side dish is right under the stuffed zucchini boats, and my favorite bite is one with all of it on my fork. However, if you’d like to add a little more green to the plate, a vinaigrette-tossed Greek side salad would go perfectly with the hearty meat sauce with béchamel. In summer, the vegetables are plentiful, so pick your favorite and enjoy!
Zucchini Boats Papoutsakia
- 2-3 baking potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
- 4 zucchini
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
For the Meat Filling:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 (15 ounces) can crushed tomatoes
- 4 garlic cloves grated
- pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, optional
For the Béchamel Sauce:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- salt, to taste
- black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 eggs
- about 2 cups shredded parmesan cheese or kefalograviera
Preheat the oven to 400 °F, 200 °C.
Slice the zucchini in half and scoop out the pulp leaving a half-inch border. Chop up the pulp and set aside.
Place the potatoes in a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over them and season both sides with salt and pepper. Roast them in the preheated oven until fork-tender. About 25 minutes.
Place the zucchini boats on top of the potatoes and drizzle them with olive oil. Season lightly with salt and bake them for about 10 minutes so that they can soften a little bit.
Make the meat sauce: Cook the onion with the olive oil over medium heat until soft and golden. About 8 minutes. Add the garlic and warm through for a few seconds. Add the ground meat and season with salt and pepper. Break the meat up and cook until no longer pink. Add the zucchini pulp and cook until softened. Add the crushed tomatoes and the crushed red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Add the dried oregano and parsley. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Make the Béchamel Sauce: Combine the oil and flour in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes to toast the flour. Add the milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk together and cook until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. In a small bowl, add the eggs and whisk them together. Add some of the hot cream mixture to the eggs a little bit at a time to temper the eggs. whisk together until smooth and add it to the saucepan. Whisk together and mix in the paresan cheese. Set aside.
Assemble the Zucchini Boats: Fill the zucchini boats with the meat sauce. Pour the bechamel on top.
Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour or until the zucchini is fork tender. Kali Orexi!
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