How To Make the Absolute Best Stuffed Zucchini Boats

published Jul 21, 2020
Stuffed Zucchini Boats with Sausage

Celebrate summer with sausage-stuffed zucchini boats nestled atop a two-ingredient cherry tomato sauce.


Prep35 minutes to 40 minutes

Cook30 minutes to 35 minutes

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close up shot of cooked crispy, saucy stuffed zucchini on bed of roasted tomato sauce
Credit: Photo: Tara Donne | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Stuffed zucchini sounds like a meal that would be too heavy for the heat, but our super-smart version is bright, light, and celebrates summer’s bounty. We take peak summer squash, stuff them with a lemon-kissed sausage filling, and bake them on top of a two-ingredient cherry tomato sauce which cooks right alongside the boats. The result is crispy, saucy, veg perfection — a guaranteed hit with the entire family.

A few smart tips — salting the zucchini to prevent sogginess, utilizing the breadcrumb topping two ways for maximum crunch, and opting for bursting buttery tomatoes over a heavy marinara — make this the very best stuffed zucchini there is. Here’s how to do it.

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Best Zucchini for Zucchini Boats

While you can stuff any size zucchini, I use medium ones for this recipe, which are big enough to stuff but small enough to fit several boats on one sheet tray. As a city-dweller, this is the size most often available at my local market. 

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden that grows larger size zucchini, those would work great as well — you could stuff just two boats instead for a dramatic showstopper!

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Prepping Zucchini for Zucchini Boats

Once you’ve selected your zucchini, you’ll start by halving each one lengthwise (no need to peel or trim the ends — you can eat the whole thing!). Then, use a small spoon, grapefruit spoon, or melon baller, which will give you more control than a regular spoon, to carefully scoop out the flesh of the zucchini, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell to form boats.

At this point, you’ll want to season both the boats and the flesh with salt, which will pull excess water out of the squash and prevent the filling and breadcrumb topping from becoming soggy.

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Making the Sausage Filling

The reserved zucchini flesh ultimately becomes part of the filling — it’s cooked with Italian sausage, aromatics, and lemon zest to keep it bright. Be sure to break the sausage into very small pieces as it cooks; large pieces won’t fit as nicely into the boat.

Before you stuff the boats, you’ll mix some of the Parmesan breadcrumb topping into the filling, too, which helps bind it together and adds extra texture. The rest gets sprinkled on top for maximum cheesy, salty crunch.

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

The Very Best Sauce

While you could absolutely start with your favorite brand of store-bought marinara, I prefer to make a simple two-ingredient cherry tomato sauce, which is lighter for summer and practically as easy. To make it, you’ll add cherry tomatoes and butter to a food processor, pulse until the tomatoes are mostly smooth and only tiny chunks of butter remain, then pour onto the baking sheet and nestle the zucchini on top. As it bakes, the sauce will cook with the zucchini.

Serve stuffed zucchini alongside a simple salad, or roast another veggie in the oven as the boats cook.

More Stuffed Zucchini Recipes We Love

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell
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Here's how to make the absolute best stuffed zucchini boats.

Stuffed Zucchini Boats with Sausage

Celebrate summer with sausage-stuffed zucchini boats nestled atop a two-ingredient cherry tomato sauce.

Prep time 35 minutes to 40 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes to 35 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


  • 4

    medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 2 cups

    cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces)

  • 4 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1/2 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 packed cup grated)

  • 1 cup

    panko breadcrumbs

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 1

    medium shallot

  • 2 cloves


  • 1/4 cup

    fresh Italian parsley leaves

  • 4

    large fresh basil leaves

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 8 ounces

    uncooked sweet or spicy Italian sausage

  • 1

    large egg


  • Small spoon or melon baller

  • Large rimmed baking sheet

  • Fine-mesh strainer

  • Mixing bowls

  • Chef knife and cutting board

  • Food processor

  • Microplane

  • Large skillet

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Fork

  • Wooden spoon

  • Pastry brush


  1. Hollow out the zucchini. Cut 4 zucchini in half lengthwise, no need to trim the ends. Using a small spoon or melon baller, carefully scoop out the flesh of the zucchini, leaving a 1/4-inch thick shell to form zucchini boats.

  2. Drain the zucchini flesh. Finely chop 1 cup of the zucchini flesh (discard the remaining flesh). Place in a fine-mesh strainer, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and toss to combine. Set the strainer over a bowl or in the sink to let the zucchini drain.

  3. Season the zucchini boats. Season the cut side of the zucchini boats with 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Flip them over onto a plate or rimmed baking sheet and set aside so they release liquid.

  4. Make the tomato sauce. Place 2 cups cherry tomatoes, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until the tomatoes are chopped very finely (almost smooth) and the butter is in very small chunks, about 20 (1-second) pulses.

  5. Make the breadcrumb topping. Finely grate 1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 packed cup). Place in a medium bowl, then add 1 cup panko and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Stir with a fork until well combined and there are no visible chunks.

  6. Prepare the remaining ingredients. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Press the zucchini flesh against the side of the strainer to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Finely chop 1 medium shallot and 2 garlic cloves, and place both in the strainer with the zucchini flesh. Finely chop 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves and 4 fresh basil leaves (about 2 tablespoons total chopped herbs) and place in a large bowl. Finely grate the zest of 1/2 medium lemon into the bowl (reserve the remaining lemon for another use).

  7. Cook the sausage. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Remove the casings from 8 ounces Italian sausage if needed, then add to the pan. Break the sausage up into very small chunks with a wooden spoon and cook until browned on the bottom, 5 to 7 minutes.

  8. Add the aromatics and zucchini. Add the shallot, garlic, zucchini flesh, and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook until the sausage is cooked through and the shallots are translucent, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the herbs.

  9. Finish the filling. Add 1/4 cup of the panko mixture and 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt to the sausage mixture and stir to combine.

  10. Egg wash the zucchini. Place 1 large egg in a small bowl and whisk with a fork to break it up. Pat the zucchini boats dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle the cut sides with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Brush the egg on the cut sides. Pour the remaining egg into the sausage mixture and stir to combine.

  11. Fill the zucchini boats. Fill the zucchini boats with sausage mixture, pressing it in to pack tightly.

  12. Top with the Parmesan breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the zucchini boats with the panko cheese mixture and press it onto the filling to adhere.

  13. Assemble on a baking sheet. Pour the sauce onto a large rimmed baking sheet and spread into an even layer. Gently place the zucchini boats on top of the sauce.

  14. Bake the zucchini boats. Bake until the zucchini shells are tender and the sauce on the edges of the baking sheet starts to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the zucchini boats to plates. Stir the sauce on the baking sheet, then taste and season with salt as needed. Serve the sauce with the zucchini boats.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.

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