With cheese-stuffed ribbons of zucchini nestled in an easy Italian sausage-tomato sauce, this delicious Zucchini Involtini is a fabulous make-ahead meal that’s perfect for family dinners and entertaining!
I’ve been making versions of this Zucchini Involtini (“involtini de zucchini” in Italian) for the past three summers, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with it until now. With a two-week trip to the French Alps on the horizon and a cooking lesson in nearby Italy (just an hour drive) planned, I took the time before we left to perfect this recipe.
Scott says it’s “on par” with our Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin which is a HUGE compliment, as that’s probably his favorite meal ever! I think you’re going to love it too!
What is “Involtini”?
Involtini is an Italian word that (roughly translated) means “small bundles of food”. According to The Spruce Eats, “involtini can be made with a wrapper of meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables, with fillings like cheese, vegetables, cured meats and nuts”. Popular types of involtini in Italy are eggplant involtini, veal involtini and Braciole, common in Sicily which is a type of involtini made with different types of meat or fish that are rolled with a cheese-herb filling and then breaded and fried.
Our recipe for Zucchini Involtini is my own involtini rendition with thin ribbons of zucchini that are stuffed with a delicious three-cheese filling and nestled in a flavorful Italian sausage-tomato basil sauce before baking. A classic Italian dinner with a delicious, unique twist!
A make-ahead recipe
I love meals that can be made in advance and simply popped in the oven before serving. That makes this “involtini de zucchini” recipe perfect for busy weeknight dinners as well as for entertaining.
It’s wonderful to be able to enjoy guests instead of fussing in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun. Prepare a simple salad before guests arrive and have some delicious dinner rolls ready to pop in the oven while the Zucchini Involtini rests and you’ll feel like a kitchen rock star!
How to make Zucchini Involtini
It might sound fancy, but making Zucchini Involtini is really quite simple. This is how it works with a few pics:
- Start by making the sauce. Heat a splash of oil in a medium-size pot. Add Italian sausage and cook until nicely browned. Drain off any excess fat then add garlic and Italian seasoning and cook just a bit longer. Next, add fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato puree and let it all meld and marry with a 20-minute simmer. It’s a simple sauce that will take about 25 minutes altogether.
- You can prepare the zucchini while the sauce simmers. Cut a small slice off of the stem end of the zucchini. Stand it upright and slice off a thin vertical slice to create a nice flat surface.
- Place the zucchini on a work surface with the cut side up. Using a veggie peeler (I really like this Y-shaped peeler) cut thin slices of the zucchini. You’ll probably get 6-8 from each zucchini. Repeat with additional zucchini until you have 24 slices.
- Line up the zucchini on several thicknesses of paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. The salt will draw out some moisture and will soften the zucchini slices. Pat gently to remove the excess moisture before proceeding.
- While the zucchini is “doing its thing”, prepare the cheese filling. Simply combine ricotta, shredded mozzarella, parmesan, egg and seasoning in a medium-size bowl.
- Place two overlapping zucchini slices on a work surface. Top with the ricotta mixture and, starting at one end, roll it up into a spiral.
- Each one will be slightly different, just as no rose is alike… but so pretty!
- Transfer the delicious sauce to a baking dish and add your pretty zucchini spirals.
- Bake and serve to happy family, friends, guests…
Now that you see how easy and fun this Zucchini Involtini recipe is to put together, put it on your “must-make-very-soon list! You won’t be disappointed, I promise (and so does Scott)!
Cafe Tips for making this Zucchini Involtini
- As we all know, zucchini squash can vary greatly in size. In order to slice them with a veggie peeler as demonstrated above, they can’t be too big. Look for zucchini that are about 7-8 inches long and fairly narrow. 8 ounces is usually a good weight to go for if you’re purchasing them from a store or market with a scale available.
- You’ll need 2-3 zucchinis for this recipe. Look for fairly straight zucchini that are uniform in size.
- You’ll only need about half of an 8-ounce container of ricotta cheese. Freeze the other half for the next time you make this Zucchini Involtini.
- This recipe calls for fire-roasted tomatoes which are canned tomatoes that are charred over a flame. The charring gives them a nice depth of flavor, but if you can’t find fire-roasted tomatoes, regular diced canned tomatoes will work fine.
- You’ll need 8-ounces of bulk Italian sausage for this recipe. Italian sausage is often sold in one-pound packages. It freezes well.
- Be sure to take the time to break the sausage into fairly small pieces as it cooks. You don’t want large chunks in the sauce.
- I like to use a large pot when making the sauce as it keeps my stovetop from getting spattered as the sausage cooks.
- I use an oval ceramic baking dish to make this Zucchini Involtini. It makes a really pretty presentation, but you can also use a 9×13-inch baking pan.
- You can keep this low carb and serve it on its own or up the ante a bit with either pasta or some warm focaccia (or both!). This Ridiculously Easy Rosemary Bread would be wonderful with it too!
- If you like a smoother sauce, pulse the tomatoes a few times with an immersion blender. You can actually do this right in the can. Just pour some of the juice into the pot and pulse the tomatoes (in the can) a few times.
- Italian sausage can vary a lot in the amount of fat it releases while cooking. I’ve found that sometimes I have to pour off a lot and sometimes there’s almost no fat after cooking and I need to add a little olive oil.
- I love this Y-shaped vegetable peeler. It’s perfect for slicing the zucchini for this recipe and works well for slicing cheese and peeling all sorts of veggies.
Thought for the day:
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
What we’re listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
With cheese-stuffed ribbons of zucchini nestled in an easy Italian sausage-tomato sauce, this delicious Zucchini Involtini is a fabulous make-ahead meal that's perfect for family dinners and entertaining!
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil divided
- 8 ounces Italian sausage
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 15- ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes (2 400g cans)
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes (794g)
- ½ cup roughly chopped fresh basil
- 3-4 medium zucchini 6-8 inches long
- ½ teaspoon fine salt (table salt is fine but not kosher salt)
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese I like whole milk mozzarella
- 1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
- fresh basil leaves for garnish, if desired
Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium-large, heavy-duty pot over medium heat. Add the Italian sausage and cook until nicely browned, breaking up the sausage into small pieces with a metal spatula while it cooks. Drain all except 1 tablespoon of fat off of the sausage. (If your Italian sausage is very lean, add enough extra virgin olive oil to equal 1 tablespoon.)
Add the Italian seasoning, garlic salt and red pepper flakes and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add the fire-roasted tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and garlic salt to the sausage mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened and fragrant. Add the chopped fresh basil and stir. Taste and season with more garlic salt, if needed. Transfer the sauce to a lightly greased (I use cooking spray) 9x13-inch baking pan or a 3 quart baking dish.
While the sauce is cooking prep the zucchini and make the filling.
Using a mandolin or Y-shaped vegetable peeler, peel the zucchini into ⅛-¼-inch slices. Lay them flat on a work surface lined with several thickness of paper towels. You should have 24 slices. Sprinkle the slices lightly with the ½ teaspoon fine salt and allow to sit while the sauce finishes cooking and you make the filling.
While the sauce simmers, make the filling by combining the ricotta cheese, egg and garlic salt in a medium-sized bowl. Stir well to combine then add the shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan and stir again. Set aside.
Pat the zucchini dry with paper towels. Overlap two zucchini strips at a time on a work surface (see pic above in the post). Use all 24 strips to make 12 double strips.
Divide the ricotta mixture between the 12 strips and spread to an even layer. Starting at one short end, roll each strip into a spiral and nestle each one into the sauce, spaced fairly evenly.
At this point the Involtini can be refrigerated, if desired. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425˚F. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the zucchini are slightly browned on the top.
Allow the Zucchini Involtini to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Garnish with fresh basil, if desired, serve and enjoy!
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips to ensure success.