Cannelloni is one of my favourite types of pasta. There is a great Italian restaurant here in Victoria called Il Terrazzo that serves up a Cannelloni di Maiale; fresh cannelloni pasta filled with pulled pork and mozzarella, baked with savoy cabbage and smoked bacon, cream and topped with a balsamic granny smith apple compote - wow! I’m salivating just typing that out. It’s an indulgence, and when the time is right, I love to treat myself to a dish like that. But for my at-home cooking, I tend to be more mindful about the nutrient profile in each meal I am having. I love Italian cooking (Italian and Lebanese are my favourite ethnic cuisines) but it tends to be heavy in gluten and dairy, which don’t support metabolic health. And while nothing can truly replace fresh pasta, this rendition with zucchini is pretty wonderful too, in its own way.
Zucchini makes an ideal low-carb substitute for pasta; one cup alone contains only 3.9 grams of carbs, making it unlikely to spike your blood sugars. It also provides fibre and a decent amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including Vitamin C (25-30% RDA), vitamin B6 (16% RDA), manganese (10% RDA), B2 Riboflavin (9-10% RDA) and potassium (9.5-12% RDA). It’s also a source of carotenoid antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.
Feel free to serve it up with real ricotta, or try Britt’s vegan ricotta option! If you want to serve 3-4 people, layer the zucchini vertically (you may need an extra zucchini for this option), or lay horizontally if you’re only serving 2.
2-3 large zucchinis
2 large handfuls of spinach
1 ½ cups ricotta or vegan ricotta* (might need up to 2 cups if layering vertically)
1 ½ cups marinara sauce
½ cup finely grated parmesan
Salt and pepper
*Vegan Ricotta Option
400g/1 block extra firm tofu, drained
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tbsp lemon juice
- use your hands to break up the tofu into a ricotta-like consistency. Add everything else and then use this mixture at step #4.
- Using a mandolin, thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise into long, thin strips. Transfer slices to bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Grill on a BBQ for 2 minutes, or until light char marks appear. Flip the zucchini slices over and cook until the other side is also charred. Remove from grill and onto a plate. This softens the zucchini and allows you to roll it easily. It also gives it a nice smokey flavour.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Chop the spinach very finely. Mix it into the ricotta.
- Spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce evenly in a baking dish. Save the remaining ½ cup to pour overtop of the zucchini cannelloni
- Depending on how sturdy your zucchini slices are, take 1 or 2 grilled zucchini slices and lay them out on a dinner plate. You can double up if they appear too thin. Then, add 1 tbsp of the spinach ricotta mixture at one end of the zucchini. Roll it up into a little cylinder shape, careful that the ricotta doesn't squeeze out.
- Place the zucchini vertically on the dish if you’d like to serve 3-4 people, or horizontally if you are serving 2. Repeat with the remaining zucchini and ricotta.
- Once the dish is full, spoon the remaining ½ cup of marinara over top, and then sprinkle with parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes.