My dinner time routine undergoes a sort of transformation when I cook Italian food. I set aside my usual rushing to get food on the table, and find myself turning on some tunes, pulling out my good dishes, and it even feels as though I’m suddenly chopping, mixing, and spicing with a bit more authority.
When health issues forced me to change my diet and become gluten and dairy free, I thought my lasagna dreams were a thing of the past. Fortunately, we were in the wake of a zucchini revolution. It all started with zucchini bread, and next thing you know we’ve got zucchini noodles, zucchini ravioli, zucchini chips and the list goes on. Well I’m here to tell you there’s yet another zucchini-fied dish out there that won’t disappoint. This healthy gluten and dairy free zucchini lasagna is the comfort food you need right now.
While you may not even taste the zucchini because of its neutral flavor, it makes up the backbone of this recipe. By slicing the zucchini into thin ribbons, it provides excellent structural support for all of the other delicious, gooey layers. Plus, these vegetables are rich in Vitamin C and magnesium and low in carbs, making them a lighter substitute for pasta.
Aside from its deliciousness, another one of lasagna’s winning qualities is that there are no hard and fast rules to the layering. Feel free to get creative, but after making this recipe a few times, I’ve found that 4 medium zucchini is usually enough to cover all of the layers this recipe calls for.
Once you’ve sliced and dried all of the zucchini, the rest of this recipe is a breeze. Next you’ll whip up a classic, hearty bolognese with ground beef and tomato sauce that’s delicious even on it’s own. Some prefer to make their sauce from scratch, but I took a shortcut and opted for my store-bought fave, Rao’s, since this recipe is already a bit more involved. The homemade pesto is the real secret sauce here, and I usually end up with enough to have leftovers for the week. This easy pesto recipe calls for about two cups of basil, but if you don’t have enough you can sub a little bit of spinach or kale in there as well.
The dairy-free cheese fooled even my most devout cheese-loving friends, and they could not believe this dish was completely cheese-less. However, feel free to use real cheese if that’s your jam, because really any type could work here. I went with a cashew-based mozzarella copycat from Miyokos, and topped with some plant-based parmesan from Whole Foods.
This lasagna is filled with hearty, flavorful ingredients that will satisfy all of your comfort food cravings. It makes enough to feed up to six people, but four of us devoured it all in one sitting. If you’re looking for easy, healthy dinner ideas, this one is totally worth it. Scroll on for the recipe!
Gluten and Dairy Free
4 medium zucchini
1 pound ground beef
24oz of marinara sauce (I used Rao's)
8oz vegan mozzarella cheese (I used Miyoko's)
1/2 chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped fresh basil
salt and black pepper
for the pesto
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 cups of basil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
Juice from half a lemon (about 2 tbsp)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp water (add as needed to blend)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice the zucchini into thin ribbons (ideally using a mandoline slicer), and line slices on a large baking sheet covered with paper towels. Sprinkle salt on each layer of zucchini and top it with another layer of paper towels. Repeat until you have sliced all of the zucchini and press down on the layers to absorb excess water.
- Bake the zucchini in the oven on large baking sheets for 6-8 minutes (you can also cook them on the stovetop for a few minutes to drain excess water).
- Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil, garlic, diced onion and red pepper flakes. Sauteé for about 5 minutes or until fragrant, and then add the meat and 1 teaspoon of salt. Brown the meat by using a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces. Once fully cooked, drain the meat into a colander and add then add the meat and entire jar of pasta sauce back into the pan and allow it to simmer for a few minutes.
- For the pesto, add the pine nuts, basil, olive oil, garlic cloves, lemon juice salt and water to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Add additional water as needed until you reach a thick, creamy consistency.
- Brush a 9x13 baking dish with olive oil and line the bottom of the dish with zucchini slices.
- Add about cup of the meat sauce on top and spread it evenly across the layer of zucchini. Add another layer of zucchini on top and then spread the dairy free cheese across the whole layer. Top with another layer of zucchini and then spread 1 cup of pesto on top. Add the final layer of zucchini and then top with 1 more cup of the meat sauce.
- Bake uncovered for 40 min and allow it to cool for 10 min. Top with shredded parmesan and basil leaves and serve warm.