Yields: about 6-8 servings Prep Time: 25 minutes Total Time: about 1 hour
Surprisingly filling, this dish is loaded with nutrition and flavor, zucchinis replacing the noodles from a traditional lasagna. The ground chicken and cheese mixture offer a hearty balance to the lighter, yet fiber-filled zucchini noodles, creating a perfectly delicious combination.
1.5 pounds ground chicken (or turkey) breast
1/2 cup diced onion (smaller if you have pickier eaters)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little more for oiling the baking dish)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups marinara sauce
Handful fresh basil
2 large zucchinis
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place the diced onion and garlic in a saucepan on medium heat. Let cook one minute, then add the ground meat (I just used a food processor to grind fresh chicken breast) and sauté until chicken is mostly cooked through.
3. Add the seasonings (oregano, basil, salt, onion powder and ground pepper).
4. While the meat is cooking, slice the zucchini lengthwise, about 1/4 of an inch.*
*Too thin and the dish is more likely to fall apart, yet you could use a vegetable slicer and peel lengthwise to get a thinner "noodle". If you go this route, try layering two zucchini "noodles" per layer to help the dish hold up. If the zucchini are cut too thick, the zucchini won’t cook enough. I also prefer to cut the zucchini in half first, then in lengthwise slices, as it makes it easier to layer and cut after cooking. Remember, I've got 3 kiddos, an active pup, a cat, and well, things are busy. Perfection is not necessary here. Just slice the darn zucchini and layer them in the dish!
5. Add the tomato paste in once all of the meat is cooked (so you can confirm the color is from the tomato paste, and not under-cooked meat).
6. Stir everything together, finally adding in the 3 cups of marinara sauce. Simmer on low heat until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat and set aside. (If you have fresh basil, you can add a few fresh tablespoons here. If not, it won’t make or break the dish.)
7. In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella cheese and Parmesan.
8. In a large dish (about 9 x 13) lightly coated the bottom and sides of dish with olive oil. Cover the bottom lightly with a few tablespoons of the meat sauce mixture. Begin the layering process. First zucchini slices, about 1 1/2 cups of sauce and 1/2 of the cheese mixture. Repeat again with a layer of zucchini, another 1 1/2 cups of sauce (leaving a little more for the top layer) and the remaining bit cheese mixture.
9. For the last layer, lay down the zucchini, use the remaining amount of meat sauce and top with a bit of Parmesan cheese (and fresh basil if you like).
10. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until dish is bubbling.
11. Remove from oven and LET COOL. It is really important to let it cool, as all of the juices need to resettle.
Zucchini and more zucchini these days! Luckily, it’s more than bread for us lately. We’ve been going the savory route. This was definitely a winner, and as I mentioned above, surprisingly filling!
Granted, there is ground chicken and a modest amount of cheese, yet my husband and I both were saying we felt more full eating this zucchini noodle version than a traditional noodle lasagna. And then I recalled how fiber-filled zucchini is! Many people on special diets substitute in zucchini for lower fat, lower sugar and lower carb options. And this is a perfect dish for any of those options (maybe go with non-fat ricotta if watching cholesterol).
This leans toward being a creamier dish, but again, as I mentioned above, it is well-balanced with the lighter side of using zucchini. I don’t usually stock my dishes with cheese, yet this amount really seems to work with this dish. Of course, cutting back a bit is always an option.
Zucchini is filled with water, and when it cooks, it releases that water. To help resolve this, you could treat it as you would eggplant, by cutting it into slices and shaking salt on it to let it “sweat” for 15 minutes or so and then rinse. Or you could lightly coat it in flour (arrowroot for gluten free), which would help absorb the water. Personally, I don’t have the time, and we all love the flavor without the salt soak or flour coating. We keep some traditional naan on the dish and use it to soak up any excess. Letting the dish sit right out of the oven also helps the water redistribute.
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