This zucchini lasagna recipe is SO good, you want even miss the pasta!
This Zucchini Lasagna is a comforting, hot, meaty, cheesy, saucy, low-carb, gluten free, keto take on your favorite Italian comfort food! It’s layered with thinly sliced zucchini, the BEST homemade Bolognese, creamy ricotta (with a secret no-grainy ricotta trick), nutty Parmesan and gooey mozzarella cheese. This veggie-loaded zucchini lasagna recipe is every bit as scrumptious as traditional lasagna and the most scrumptious way to use zucchini from your garden. Best of all, this zucchini lasagna is not watery! I’m sharing my fool-proof techniques to prevent watery zucchini lasagna, so you end up with perfect al dente zucchini noodles and rich sauce every time. This zucchini lasagna is guaranteed to be your new favorite make ahead, freezer-friendly, gluten-free comfort food!
ZUCCHINI LASAGNA RECIPE
Pasta has to be one of life’s simplest yet most scrumptious pleasures. I love it all from spaghetti to fettuccine Alfredo to shrimp Fettuccine to macaroni and cheese, to manicotti and of course, classic lasagna, chicken lasagna and Mexican lasagna. But some days, I crave something a little less carb-heavy, a little more fresh and nutritious, enter zucchini lasagna.
In zucchini lasagna, the lasagna noodles are replaced with thinly sliced zucchini “noodles.” Yes, zucchini. I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical the first time I made this lasagna recipe, and my husband even more so. But OH MY YUM it is incredible! We both couldn’t put our forks down. I guarantee it’s SO good, even zucchini haters – including zucchini hating kids – will love this recipe!
This zucchini lasagna recipe still emerges immensely comforting and will totally satisfy your cravings for indulgent, cozy, hearty Italian comfort food. It boasts the traditional lasagna flavor with the wonderfully rich, unbelievably flavorful Bolognese and the classic texture with perfectly cooked, thinly sliced zucchini noodles.
This zucchini lasagna is perfect for summer months with garden-fresh zucchini and herbs galore, but you’ll also love making it in the winter months when you crave something cozy, hearty and gluten free. To that end, I’ve included how to make this zucchini lasagna both with fresh herbs and dried herbs.
This zucchini lasagna is more time consuming than lasagna soup or white lasagna soup, but is SO worth it. I have never made this zucchini lasagna recipe and regretted it. Instead, it’s a labor of love that repays me 10-fold with its deeply satisfying layers of hot, cheesy, meaty perfection. Here are just a few more reasons I love zucchini lasagna:
- Family favorite. Everyone loves lasagna and this zucchini lasagna is no different! It boasts the same flavor and texture of classic lasagna and will have everyone coming back for seconds and thirds.
- Gluten free. I have several gluten free family members and this zucchini lasagna means everyone can enjoy the same meal!
- Low carb. For those watching their carbs, this zucchini lasagna is perfect. It’s low carb but still cozy, hearty and filling.
- Family size. This zucchini lasagna feeds the entire family at a fraction of of the price as dining out.
- Make Ahead. I love making zucchini lasagna the night before or in the morning so all you have to do is pop it in the oven at dinner time.
- Freezer friendly. This zucchini lasagna freezes well so you can it freeze it for busy days ahead or for gifts for new moms or when someone has had surgery. You can also double the batch and eat one lasagna casserole for dinner and freeze the other.
WHAT MAKES THIS THE BEST ZUCCHINI LASAGNA RECIPE?
If you have made zucchini lasagna in the past and your noodles were soggy or your lasagna was watery or your ricotta was grainy or your sauce was bland – I can guarantee you right now you will NOT have those problems with this zucchini lasagna recipe!
I have used the tips and tricks from my classic lasagna recipe with hundreds of rave reviews to create the best sauce and most creamy ricotta filling, and then experimented to create the best textured zucchini noodles and most importantly, a casserole that was saucy but not watery. Here is my conclusion of what makes this the best zucchini lasagna recipe:
- No watery zucchini lasagna! You can’t just salt the zucchini noodles and expect your lasagna to not be watery. Instead, the zucchini must be sliced 1/8-inch thick instead of 1/4-inch thick, salted and broiled to dehydrate the zucchini. The final trick is to leave the Bolognese on the thick side, another perk of homemade Bolognese. The sauce absorbs the water from the zucchini and we end up with the perfect saucy consistency.
- Bolognese Sauce. You NEED a quality, flavorful meat sauce in order to have the best zucchini lasagna recipe. And of course, the best meat sauce is a homemade Bolognese with onions, carrots and celery. It’s rich, immensely flavorful and SO worth the extra 10 minutes to make homemade sauce. Plus, it just simmers on the back burner in the same amount of time it takes to prepare the zucchini noodles and ricotta filling.
- Depth of Flavor. We use plenty of seasoning in our Bolognese Sauce and also season the ricotta filling with Parmesan, nutmeg and basil. Every element should be seasoned and flavorful.
- No Grainy Ricotta! Instead of using all of ricotta, we combine ricotta with sour cream for the creamiest ricotta you ever did taste.
- Ratio of Meat Sauce to Filling to Noodles. This zucchini lasagna recipe boasts three layers of zucchini noodles as opposed to just two (that most recipes call for) so we get layer upon layer upon layer of YUM!
WHAT INGREDIENTS GO INTO ZUCCHINI LASAGNA?
- Zucchini slices aka “noodles”
- Mozzarella Cheese
- Ricotta Cheese
- Parmesan Cheese
- Italian Seasonings
This zucchini lasagna recipe is made with the same ingredients as classic lasagna except it uses zucchini instead of pasta. I will go into greater detail about each of these elements below.
How to CHOOSE and Store Zucchini
- Choose: Look for zucchini that is dark green, plump, firm and smooth without blemishes, soft spots or shriveled skin. For this zucchini lasagna recipe, we want zucchini that is fairly straight, long and weighs 7-8 oz. It should feel heavy for its size.
- How to store: Zucchini is fairly deliciated and should be stored unwashed in a perforated or loosely closed plastic bag for 5-7 days. Don’t wash the zucchini until ready to use.
- Should I peel zucchini? Nope! Unlike cucumbers, zucchini skin is hardly noticeable and perfectly edible. It’s thin, soft, and contains healthy carotenoids.
WHAT OTHER VEGGIES CAN YOU USE IN LASAGNA?
You can make this zucchini lasagna with a combination of zucchini and squash or any other thinly sliced vegetables such as sweet potatoes or eggplant – or use all of one veggie. You can also add vegetables in between the lasagna layers such as mushrooms, cooked spinach, or artichokes. If you swap out the zucchini for a less watery vegetable, you will want to make the Bolognese saucier by adding about 1 cup of tomato sauce.
WHAT KIND OF SAUCE SHOULD I USE FOR ZUCCHINI LASAGNA?
I believe if you are taking the time to make zucchini lasagna, then it should be done right with spectacular homemade Bolognese. This sauce takes the same amount of time to prepare as your zucchini noodles and the results are exponentially more delicious than the time and effort required AKA it MAKES the lasagna!
Bolognese is known in Italy as ragù alla bolognese, and gets its name because it originated in Bologna, Italy. Bolognese is a meat-based sauce which includes a sofrito of onion, celery and carrots. I love this recipe so much (and so do readers) that it’s become the base of my Marinara Sauce that I use in my Manicotti (sans meat), Tortellini Al Forno, Million Dollar Baked Penne and Baked Ziti. To make the sauce, you will need:
- VEGETABLES: The vegetables should be finely diced so they become tender in the sauce and aren’t chunky. You an even chop them in your food processor if you prefer. After the sauce is simmered, you won’t notice any chunks of vegetables but you WILL notice the depth of flavor. If you skip the sofrito, you are skipping a key element of Bolognese and skipping out on tons of flavor.
- ITALIAN SAUSAGE: Italian sausage comes seasoned with Italian seasonings so it’s already bursting with flavor. I use hot Italian sausage but I assure you it will not make your zucchini lasagna spicy.
- SEASONINGS: This Bolognese sauce is seasoned to perfection. It boasts fresh garlic, red pepper flakes, fresh basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper and a bay leaf.
- SAUCE: Crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and water create the tomato base for the Bolognese. The crushed tomatoes provide texture, the tomato paste adds concentrated flavor and the water thins the sauce so it has some room to thicken as it simmers and the flavors concentrate.
CAN I USE BEEF OR TURKEY?
Yes! If you want to use lean ground beef or turkey, make sure to season with Italian seasonings, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and fennel. Fennel is crucial for authentic Italian flavor. If you use turkey, I suggest also adding 1 teaspoon beef bouillon powder or better than bouillon and reducing the salt in the Bolognese.
WHAT KIND OF CHEESE SHOULD I USE FOR ZUCCHINI LASAGNA?
There are three cheeses in this zucchini lasagna recipe: mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan, so let’s talk cheese!
Lasagna always needs mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella is creamy, buttery and melts beautifully. It’s milky richness cuts through the tangy tomato sauce. I prefer shredded mozzarella cheese over fresh mozzarella balls because I find them too watery for lasagna.
I also prefer shredded mozzarella cheese over sliced mozzarella because it’s so much easier to evenly distribute. If you want to use mozzarella slices, then I suggest asking your deli counter to very thinly slice the mozzarella.
There is a debate between using ricotta and cottage cheese in lasagna filling. Some turn to cottage cheese because they don’t like the grainy texture of ricotta. Well, I’ve solved that dilemma. I did a side by side test of:
- lasagna with ricotta
- lasagna with ricotta mixed with sour cream
- lasagna with cottage cheese
- lasagna with cottage cheese mixed with sour cream
The lasagna with ricotta mixed with sour cream was the clear winner with lasagna with cottage cheese mixed with sour cream as the second choice.
I was AMAZED by the ricotta mixed with sour cream. It still tasted like ricotta filling but was no longer grainy but smooth – seriously lasagna changing.
That being said, I have heard that the ricotta we buy in our American grocery stores tastes nothing like ricotta you purchase at an Italian market. If you have the chance to purchase either brands Sierra or Polly-O ricotta cheese at a specialty market, then you might not need the sour cream trick – but I think I’d still do it because – tangy, silky sour cream!
Can I use cottage cheese instead of ricotta?
Yes! As previously discussed, cottage cheese mixed with sour cream was my second choice for the creamy filling so I suggest keeping the winning combo. I also suggest pureeing the cottage cheese for an even creamier texture. You will need 2 cups cottage cheese and ¾ cups sour cream.
Lastly, you will need freshly grated Parmesan cheese to infuse your lasagna with its alluring salty, nutty flavor. Parmesan is used in the ricotta filling so it gets dispersed into three layers of the zucchini lasagna. You don’t want to use the powdered or pre-shredded cheese. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese tastes far superior and melts much better.
WHAT GOES INTO ZUCCHINI LASAGNA RICOTTA FILLING?
This filling is sensational and super easy to whip up! You will need:
- ricotta cheese: please use whole milk ricotta -you can taste the difference! It melts far better than skim ricotta for a much creamier texture.
- sour cream: full fat please – again it melts much better.
- Parmesan cheese: adds nutty, salty goodness. Use freshly grated Parmesan for its superior melting ability and not powdered or pre-shredded cheese.
- basil and parsley: 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried– but fresh is always best!
- seasonings: nutmeg is a secret authentic ingredient to ricotta lasagna filling. It is rounded out by pepper.
- eggs: act as a binding agent and prevents the filling from being runny; but don’t worry, you can’t taste the egg, just the luxurious texture.
What size should I slice zucchini noodles for lasagna?
Zucchini lasagna is best made with thin 1/8-inch lasagna noodles as opposed to 1/4-inch because:
- The thinner width is more in-line with traditional lasagna noodles and creates a more noodle-like texture.
- It creates more layers of zucchini noodles for a more satisfying texture and the ideal ratio of noodles to sauce to ricotta filling.
- Most importantly, thinner zucchini noodles release less moisture which helps prevent your lasagna from becoming watery.
How to Slice Zucchini for Lasagna
You will need to use some sort of appliance/tool to help slice your zucchini noodles into 1/8-inch thick slices. This width is too thin and the zucchini is too long and awkward to attempt to slice it with a knife without hurting yourself.
- Mandoline: This is my number 1 preferred method and saves SO much time! A mandoline slicer is quick and painless and delivers even precision slices. The mandoline shown in the pictures is the one I use all the time. It’s less than $30 on Amazon and perfect for slicing everything from zucchini to potatoes to cucumbers. I also recommend a safety glove to protect your hand.
- Box grater: A typical box grater has a slicing blade that can be used but the slices won’t be quite as even. Be very careful not to cut yourself!
How to Make Zucchini Lasagna Less Watery
Zucchini is 95% water so it is important to draw out the water from the zucchini before baking or the lasagna will be a watery mess. Here are four tips to make zucchini lasagna less watery that, when combined, work like a charm:
- Slice your zucchini into 1/8-inch slices. As previously discussed, thinner zucchini slices release less water because there is less zucchini.
- Salt your zucchini and let it sit for 15 minutes. Spread the zucchini slices out into a single layer over several layers of paper towels. Sprinkle evenly with kosher salt and let rest at least 15 minutes or longer. The salt draws out the moisture of the zucchini. After 15 minutes, you will notice pools of water on the surface of the zucchini. Brush the salt off with a wad of paper towels and pat dry. Make sure you use kosher salt so it is easier to brush off.
- Broil the zucchini slices until golden. This step is HUGE and should not be skipped. Broiling the zucchini noodles dehydrates them so they have very little water left to release. To broil, Top two baking sheets with baking racks (or work in batches) and spray racks with cooking spray. Evenly line the slices on the baking racks in a single layer; spray the tops of the zucchini lightly with cooking spray. Broil one sheet at a time on the top rack (about 5-inches away from broiler) for 4-6 minutes, or until lightly brown and slightly shriveled; repeat with the second tray. *If you don’t have baking racks, spray two baking sheets and transfer zucchini slices to paper towels once broiled to absorb excess moisture.
Do you rinse zucchini after salting?
No! Rinsing the zucchini after salting defeats the entire purpose of salting to remove the water; rinsing will add water back to the lasagna. Instead, wipe the salt off with a paper towel.
How to Make Zucchini Lasagna
- While the zucchini is resting, make the Bolognese. Brown the sausage, onion, carrots and celery over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 30 more seconds. Drain grease.
- Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water and all seasonings. Cover, and bring to a boil. Remove lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be quite thick but will thin once baked with the zucchini.
MAKE RICOTTA CHEESE FILLING
- While sauce is simmering, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together ricotta cheese, sour cream, fresh basil, nutmeg, eggs and Parmesan cheese.
HOW TO LAYER ZUCCHINI LASAGNA
- Lightly grease a deep 9×13 pan. Spread a quarter of the Bolognese sauce on the bottom of the prepared pan. The layer will be very thin. Top with one third of the zucchini slices in an even layer, overlapping if needed. Spread one third of the ricotta filling over top in an even layer and evenly top with ¾ cup mozzarella cheese.
- Repeat layers (Bolognese, zucchini noodles, ricotta, mozzarella) two more times for a total of 3 complete layers. To finish, top with remaining Bolognese and remaining mozzarella.
HOW TO BAKE ZUCCHINI LASAGNA
- Cover lasagna with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Let ZUCCHINI LASAGNA Rest
- Remove the lasagna from the oven and let stand 15 minutes before slicing.
- This step is super important so the dish can absorb extra liquid. It also allows the flavor to build and meld.
TIPS ON HOW TO MAKE PERFECT ZUCCHINI Lasagna recipe:
Here is summary of tips and tricks to make the BEST zucchini lasagna:
- Use a mandoline to slice zucchini into even 1/8 thick noodles.
- The zucchini MUST be salted and let to rest for at least 15 minutes to draw out excess water or your baked lasagna will be watery.
- Use kosher salt to salt the zucchini so it’s easier to wipe off.
- Don’t skip broiling the zucchini as it’s super important to dehydrate the zucchini before baking. You can also grill the zucchini until golden on each side.
- Don’t line your baking sheet with parchment when broiling or it will burn.
- Use freshly grated cheeses as pre-grated cheeses use anti-clumping chemicals which prevents them from melting as well.
- The Bolognese will be thick and a little hard to spread which is a good thing! The sauce will absorb water released from the zucchini when baked to become the perfect consistency.
ZUCCHINI LASAGNA RECIPE VARIATIONS
This zucchini lasagna is very flexible. You can play with different vegetables, different, proteins and different add-ins.
- Vegetables: use half zucchini, half squash, or half zucchini, half eggplant. For an entirely different recipe, you can swap the zucchini for other thinly sliced vegetables such as sweet potatoes. You can also sprinkle in layers of veggies such as cooked spinach, steamed broccoli, petite peas, bell peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, etc. You will want to steam, roast or sauté the veggies before adding to the lasagna.
- Protein: swap the Italian sausage for ground turkey, ground chicken or lean ground beef seasoned with Italian seasoning, fennel, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne pepper. You can also layer the zucchini with rotisserie chicken or even shrimp or lump crab meat.
- Go vegetarian. You can make vegetarian zucchini lasagna by omitting the sausage and adding tofu or mushrooms instead. If using tofu, make sure to use firm tofu and remove excess moisture by placing the tofu in a pie plate, topping with a heavy plate and weighing down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 15 minutes.
- Sauce: mix up the flavor profile and swap the Bolognese for Alfredo sauce like in my chicken lasagna recipe. This recipe spin is particularly delicious with the addition of spinach and artichokes.
- Add Ins: you can layer the zucchini lasagna with other ingredients such chopped sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, pepperoncini or roasted dried bell peppers. Take care to rinse and pat them very dry before chopping.
HOW TO MAKE ZUCCHINI LASAGNA RECIPE AHEAD OF TIME
This zucchini lasagna is best served fresh but can be prepared in stages – prep the zucchini noodles, make the filling, make the Bolognese – so all that’s left to do is assemble. If you assemble the zucchini lasagna entirely ahead of time, it will still be delicious, but a little more watery.
- Prep zucchini noodles. Slice, salt and broil the zucchini noodles per recipe directions. Line a baking sheet with paper towels followed by a single row of zucchini noodles. Top with parchment paper and repeat paper towels, zucchini noodles, parchment until all of the noodles are layered. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Blot zucchini of any excess moisture before assembling the lasagna.
- Make ricotta filling. Whisk all of the filling ingredient together, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Make Bolognese. You can make the sauce up to 3 days in advance and refrigerate or freeze for up to 3 months. If you use cold, thawed sauce in your lasagna, add an extra 10 minutes to the baking time with the foil on.
- Assemble and Refrigerate. You can assemble the entire zucchini lasagna a day in advance and refrigerate (without baking). The zucchini will continue to release water so I suggest removing water accumulated at the bottom of the dish with a turkey baster. Let the lasagna sit on the counter for 15 minutes before baking then add an extra 10 minutes to the baking time with the foil on. If you bake ceramic or glass dishes straight from the refrigerator, they can shatter so don’t skip the counter time!
HOW TO STORE ZUCCHINI LASAGNA
Let lasagna cool to room temperature and cover tightly with foil. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for longer storage.
HOW TO REHEAT
- Whole pan of lasagna: Let glass or ceramic dishes sit on the counter for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove water accumulated at the bottom of the dish with a turkey baster. Bake, covered, for 30-35 minutes.
- Single servings: transfer a serving of lasagna to a microwave safe plate. Microwave for 90 seconds then at 20 intervals until warm through.
How to Freeze Zucchini Lasagna
Zucchini lasagna is best if frozen before baking for the best texture, that way you aren’t baking the zucchini noodles twice. It is also best to thaw frozen zucchini lasagna before baking so you can remove some of the excess moisture.
To freeze unbaked zucchini lasagna:
- Assemble lasagna according to recipe directions in a freezer safe dish.
- Cover baking dish all the way around with 2 layers of plastic wrap.
- Cover the lasagna tightly with one layer of aluminum foil.
- Label lasagna and freeze for up to 3 months.
- When ready to bake, thaw lasagna in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- Transfer lasagna to the counter for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, remove water accumulated at the bottom of the dish with a turkey baster.
- Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 20-30 minutes.
To freeze baked zucchini lasagna:
There isn’t really a reason to freeze baked zucchini lasagna except if you have leftovers. In that case, it’s best to freeze individual servings:
- Let lasagna cool completely.
- Slice into individual servings.
- Transfer slices to freezer safe airtight containers.
- Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
- To reheat, either thaw and microwave until warm OR
- Transfer serving to a baking sheet and bake from frozen at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH ZUCCHINI LASAGNA?
This zucchini lasagna recipe is the show stopper so it really doesn’t need much except a simple green salad and garlic bread, but we also love serving it with:
- Buttery Breadsticks (new pics coming soon!)
- Soft and Fluffy Dinner Rolls
- Roasted Parmesan Broccoli
- Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Garlic, Lemon, Butter
- Tomato Cucumber Salad
- Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Brown Butter
- Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Ranch
- Berry Salad with Honey Mascarpone
- Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette
- Winter Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
LOOKING FOR MORE ITALIAN RECIPES?
- Loaded Zuppa Toscana
- Italian Vegetable Soup
- Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
- Skinny Chicken Parmesan (Grilled)
- One Skillet Cheesy Meaty Penne
- Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup
- Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo
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