This Italian meatball stuffed zucchini is simmered in a homemade tomato sauce and topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. The zucchini stuffing is a traditional Italian meatball made of ground beef, minced garlic, soaked bread, nutmeg, and parmesan. The homemade tomato sauce is made with crushed tomatoes, garlic, onion, and dried Italian herbs.
What I Love About This Recipe
The flavors of the Italian meatball, zucchini, homemade tomato sauce, and parmesan all come together beautifully in this simple and elegant dish. Serve this stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce by itself (as the Italians) or alongside any type of pasta or rice.
- Zucchini: The best zucchini for this recipe is large green zucchini, not baby zucchini or kousa, because it is stuffed with the Italian meatball mixture.
For the Italian meatball stuffing:
- Ground beef: Use 85% fat to 90% fat ground beef.
- French bread: The interior dough of the baguette is used in the meatball mixture. it's easier to remove if the french bread is fresh.
- Milk: Use almond milk, cow's milk, oatmilk, or water.
- Ground nutmeg: Make sure to use this spice in the meatballs because it is a main ingredient.
- Shredded parmesan: Use freshly grated parmesan or pre-grated parmesan.
- Mashed fresh garlic: Mashed or pressed garlic is used for the Italian meatball stuffing.
For the homemade tomato sauce:
- Crushed tomatoes: Use a large can of crushed tomatoes.
- Onion: I recommend white onion, brown onion, or sweet onion.
- Finely chopped fresh garlic: Finely chopped fresh garlic is used for the tomato sauce.
- Dried Italian Herbs: Many grocery stores sell dried Italian herbs in a bottle. Substitute fresh herbs like oregano, rosemary, or basil.
See the recipe card at the bottom of the post for quantities.
How To Make Italian Meatball Stuffed Zucchini
For large zucchini, cut the zucchini into thirds (each section about 3" in length). Cut the stem off the end of the zucchini. Using a corer or knife, core out the yellow soft flesh while keeping the outside of the zucchini intact. This is a delicate process that might need some practice.
Add the milk and bread dough to a bowl. Let soak for 2 to 3 minutes. Squeeze the bread in between your hands, squeezing out the excess milk.
Important: Squeeze out the excess milk, so the meat mixture is not too moist.
Add the ground beef, minced garlic, salt, pepper, ground nutmeg, grated parmesan, and egg. Mix the Italian meatball mixture well with your hands until combined.
Stuff the zucchini with the meatball mixture. Once the zucchinis are all stuffed, add some vegetable oil and olive oil mixture to a nonstick pan.
On medium heat, fry the zucchini in the oil for about 10 minutes covered. Rotate the zucchinis every few minutes to cook the zucchini evenly.
Using a slotted spoon, set the Italian meatball stuffed zucchinis aside.
Drain the nonstick pan of the excess oil. Turn the heat on medium-high. Add the chopped onions. Once the onions soften (about 3 to 4 minutes), add the minced garlic and fry for another minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, water, dried Italian herbs, salt, and pepper. Simmer the homemade tomato sauce for about 5 minutes covered. Add the fried stuffed zucchinis continuing to simmer covered on medium heat.
Simmer the Italian meatball stuffed zucchini in the homemade tomato sauce for about 20 minutes (with a cover). Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Additionally, serve with rice or pasta if desired.
Tips and Tricks
- Use mashed garlic (or pressed garlic using a garlic press) in the meatballs and finely chopped garlic in the tomato sauce. Mashed garlic, using a mortar and pestle, is different from finely minced garlic. Mashed garlic forms a paste that can easily distribute in the meatball mixture. Minced garlic is more suitable when frying in oil, like for the homemade pasta sauce.
- Use large green zucchini. Baby zucchini is unsuitable because it's hard to core and stuff with the Italian meatball mixture. Kousa, a light green squash, is not the best substitute either because it's softer than green zucchini. Kousa will fall apart more easily in the frying step.
- Core the zucchini delicately. The easiest way to core the zucchini is using a corer in the same way as kousa for kousa mahshi.
Variations and Substitutions
- Substitute non-dairy milk for cow's milk. The Italian meatball mixture normally uses cow's milk. However, substitute almond milk, oat milk, or even water.
- Substitute sliced bread for french bread. Use the doughy part of the sliced bread (not the edges).
- Use a jarred pasta sauce. Rather than making the pasta sauce from scratch, use jarred pasta sauce (either homemade or store-bought).
- Add spicy pepper to the pasta sauce.
- Chef's knife and cutting board to prepare the zucchini, onions, and garlic
- Mortar and pestle to mash the garlic OR a garlic press to press the garlic
- Large non-stick pot with cover to fry the zucchini and simmer the stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce
- Zucchini corer
Store the stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Freeze the stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce in freezer-friendly bags. Defrost at room temperature. Reheat in the microwave or on medium heat on the stovetop.
Prepare a large zucchini in many different ways: grilled, roasted with parmesan, stuffed with an Italian meatball mixture, or baked in the oven as zucchini boats.
Yes! The exterior skin on large green zucchini is edible.
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Italian Stuffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce
- 1 lb ground beef, 85% to 90% lean
- 8 to 9 large zucchini
- 3 cups of bread from inside of a baguette ** see note 2
- 1 cup milk *see note 1
- ½ cup grated parmesan
- 1 egg
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1.5 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 tablespoon canola oil for frying
- 2 tablespoon olive oil mixed with canola oil for frying
Homemade Tomato Sauce
- 1 can 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup of chopped onions
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
- Core the zucchini. Wash and cut the stem off of the zucchini. Cut the zucchini into 3" long sections (about 2 to 3 pieces per large zucchini). Using a corer or knife, cut the soft inside out of the zucchini leaving just the exterior. Set aside.
- Make the Italian meatball mixture. Tear the bread from the inside of the baguette (do not include the crust). Place the bread in a bowl with milk and let soak for 2 to 3 minutes. Using your hands, squeeze the excess milk from the bread and place it in a second bowl. Add the ground meat, egg, minced garlic, grated parmesan, ground nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Mix well with your hands.
- Stuff and fry the zucchinis. Using your hands stuff the Italian meatball mixture into the cored zucchini. Once all of the zucchinis are stuffed, add the canola oil and olive oil to a nonstick pan on medium heat. Add the stuffed zucchinis in a single layer and cover. Fry for about 10 minutes turning the zucchinis every few minutes. Fry the zucchinis in two batches if needed.
- Make the homemade tomato sauce. In a nonstick pan on medium-high heat, fry the onions with some olive oil. Once the onions soften, add the minced garlic and fry for another minute. Add the can of crushed tomatoes, water, dried Italian herbs, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes covered.
- Simmer the Italian stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce. On medium heat, add all of the stuffed zucchinis to the homemade tomato sauce and simmer for 20 minutes covered. Turn the zucchinis a few times as they simmer on the stovetop.
- Serve with pasta or rice and some freshly grated parmesan.
- Use cow's milk, almond milk, oat milk, or water to soak the bread. Make sure to squeeze out the excess milk once soaked.
- Add more bread dough (up to 5 cups) if desired.