When it comes to making lower calorie or “healthier” items, I have seen a lot of zucchini creeping into familiar recipes. Fortunately, I think zucchini is pretty awesome. When I was in the middle of my weight loss with Weight Watchers I really wanted to make a nice lasagna and so I tried making one where I subbed every other layer of noodles with strips of zucchini. It tasted fine, but was awkward to cut through and didn’t really do what I wanted it to. From that point on a portion of my waking hours was spent figuring out another better way to have my lasagna and eat it too. What came out of this experiment was more of a zucchini manicotti than lasagna, and something relatively low calorie.
Rather than overdo this with a detailed recipe, I want to share more of the general idea so that you can make it with the kinds of fillings you like most. There are basically three components of what you see pictured.The first component is the zuchinni noodles themselves.The second is a creamy cauliflower white sauce that I used on the bottom of the baking dish. The third is the filling of the manicotti, for which I used butternut squash and spinach.
Step 1: zucchini noodles
This takes a little bit of preparation. Zucchini is quite watery and would release water while it is being cooked, so we need to get the water out in advance. After using a vegetable peeler to make strips I laid them out in a colander and sprinkled them with salt. After a few minutes I mixed them around again and then let them sit a but more. I daubed the pile of zucchini with paper towel, but then also blotted the strips individually as I was making the rolls. I did this first so that the zucchini would release water and be ready when I had the filling ready.
Step 2: creamy cauliflower white sauce
In a medium pot I cooked 2 cups of frozen cauliflower, half an onion, and one clove of garlic with 1/2 cup of water and half of a vegetable stock melt (you could just cook it with 1/2 cup of a strongly flavoured broth). When everything was soft I transferred it to a bowl so that I could put the pot back to work with the butternut squash. I’ll get back to that. Once it was a bit cooler I started blending it with my immersion blender. I added 1/4 cup of unsweetened cashew milk slowly as I didn’t want it to get too runny. I also added about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of nutritional yeast, a tiny sprinkle of paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard (be careful when adding the mustard, and adjust to taste). You may want to add a little bit of salt and/or pepper to taste as well. I put about half of this sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish.
Step 3: butternut squash and spinach filling
I also used 2 cups of frozen and cooked it with 1/2 cup of water and the remaining half of the vegetable stock melt. Once it was soft I used the immersion blender on it as well to smooth it out. This part also had spinach. I used about 150 grams of frozen chopped spinach. This was about 1 cup of cooked spinach. I mixed the two together and also added a few shakes of my preferred herbs.
Step 4: putting it all together
I used 2-3 strips of zucchini and laid them on a plate overlapping each other horizontally. Then I took a heaping tablespoon or so of the butternut squash and spinach filling and spread it along the zucchini. I rolled up the strips and then laid them in the casserole dish on top of the cauliflower sauce. Just before putting them in the oven at 375 degree for 35 minutes I topped them with a drizzle of 1/2 cup of pasta sauce.
In the end I ended up with about 1/2 cup of filling left over and about 1 cup of cauliflower sauce. I think in the future I would make more zucchini strips and use a slightly bigger pan to use everything up. I might also alternate red and white sauce on the top.
The only complaint I had from my taste tester was that this was a little bit soft in texture. If I had been using ricotta instead of the butternut squash as part of the filling that might have made for more textural variation, but I wanted to keep this plant based. As I experiment with different fillings, I’ll add some updated variations here.