Making vegetables "happen": Zucchini edition

Some kids eat their vegetables. Other kids make me wonder how they're getting their nutrients. Some parents tell me I'm lucky that my son likes vegetables, but luck doesn't have much to do with it.

I work hard to make vegetables interesting - for myself as much as my family. I discovered that roasted asparagus with slightly burnt tips  were superior to the steamed version. And that any salad is delicious as long as you use the good ranch dressing - preferably homemade.

zucchini noodles

Because as Thomas Jefferson said, "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it." I know that this won't apply to all parents. Some kids are just picky eaters, no matter how adventurous the family palate. But I also find that parents who keep trying end up stumbling upon something, some vegetable dish that their child will tolerate...maybe even love.

Which brings me to zucchini. You have to admit, it's one of the coolest-sounding words in produce. For years I would just slice them into discs and sauté them in butter with a dash of olive oil. It was good, but I was missing out.

You see, the softness of the zucchini makes it the perfect material to play with. Below are some fun options that everyone in the family can enjoy. 

zucchini boat

Zucchini boats

If you slice this vegetable in half, it's soft enough inside to scrape out with a grapefruit spoon until it's the shape of a boat. Then you can take the zucchini innards, mix them with herbs, rice, cheese, even ground beef or sausage, then scoop the mix back into the hollowed-out zucchini - much like you would do with a deviled egg. Only this time you'd top it with bread crumbs and bake until the top is toasty and the insides are gooey. 

Zucchini for the carb-conscious

Zucchini, when sliced thin, can also be used as a carb-free lasagna, replacing the noodles. Zucchini is so pliable, nearly all grocery stores sell zucchini noodles in lieu of pasta.

zucchini rollatini recipe


One thing I had trouble mastering was the zucchini rollatini. The vegetable is made slightly soft by sautéing or baking slices for a few minutes before making the recipe.

Step 1 is pictured above. In fact, from the above photo down to the bottom of this post, I am sharing step-by-step pictures of how I made the rollatini, before baking in the oven at 375 degrees until the cheese was melted on top. If adding meat to the rollatini, be sure that all foods are fully-cooked before adding to the dish for the final bake.

When I first tried making rollatini, I cut the slices too thick, or didn't cook them long enough, because for a while, the slice would snap and break before I could fully roll.

But when you make rollatini, a zucchini slice gets rolled up with with cheese and herbs into a swirl, stacked sitting up, and drenched in marinara before baking. I didn't do so badly this time! Below is an image of Step 2 in my process.

zucchini rollatini in a dish

Tips for cooking zucchini rollatini

Because I've been experimenting, I don't have an exact recipe for rollatini that's guaranteed to knock your socks off. But I know the basics, and here are some bonafide pointers:

  • The thinner you slice the zucchini, the more malleable it will be. 
  • Always sauté or bake the zucchini first, until it becomes slightly translucent. You don't want the slice to be stiff and spongy, but you don't want it mushy either.
  • For any meats, rice, and other items that need to be cooked, don't count on the final bake. That's just to melt the cheese, finish baking the partially-cooked zucchini, and to marry the spices. Add fully-cooked foods to the rollatini to ensure nothing is raw. 
  • Bake in the oven at 375. You can eye it, since the zucchini is mostly cooked. Let that cheese get slightly crispy on top, like pizza. The kids will love it. 
  • Always add extra garlic to whatever marinara or meat sauce you'll be using. It's never enough on its own.
  • It's great to pour a little sauce on top, but have a nice thin layer coating the bottom of the pan or dish, to keep food from sticking.
  • Use a baking dish with high sides, such as a Dutch oven or cake dish. It will keep the rolls upright and compact. 

zucchini rollatini with mozzarella

I say this all the time, but have fun. Experient with flavors. If you don't have mozzarella, cream cheese will work in a pinch. And ricotta with crumbled rosemary? Divine. Dried herbs are fine if you don't have fresh herbs. You can mix the zucchini innards with almost anything to make stuffing for a boat, including panko, crumbled breakfast sausage, diced figs, garlic, pulled pork, rice or diced onions - the list is endless.

zucchini rollatini topped with marinara

Send us photos of your zucchini creations! Below is my finished product!

zucchini rollatini with marinara and mozzarella

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