I think we should call this month ‘Zucchini Month’. It’s my third recipe this month with zucchini as the main ingredient and this one is quite an impressive one. Stuffed zucchini boats with ground beef and a creamy bechamel sauce on top, who can resist?! This recipe makes enough to serve 4 people and it’s kid’s friendly.
Why you should try this recipe
- Hearty, delicious and healthy recipe to use up your zucchinis.
- Big hit with adults and children.
- Great tips on how to make the perfect creamy bechamel sauce.
- Substitutes for a recipe with dairy-free bechamel sauce.
Ingredients & How-to
This recipe for stuffed zucchini boats with ground beef and bechamel sauce on top has three simple steps:
- Chopping the ingredients and preparing the zucchini
- Cooking the ground beef filling
- Making the bechamel sauce
I start by chopping the ingredients for the ground beef filling. I like to use three or four mushrooms that I cut into slices and one bell pepper that I cut into strips. You can use any colour of bell pepper that you have available in your fridge. Finally, I chop an onion into cubes and two garlic cloves roughly. Now, I’m ready to start cooking the ground beef.
I add a little bit of olive oil to the bottom of a pan and cook the chopped onion first until it gets soft and clear. Then it’s time to brown the ground beef. Using a wooden spatula, I break down the minced beef and let it cook for a few minutes until it has a nice brown colour. I like to add some red wine at this point, which will give my filling an extra kick in the flavour. I leave it for a couple of minutes until the alcohol has evaporated, and then I add two tablespoons of tomato paste. If you don’t have tomato paste, you could use instead 1/3 of a cup of passata tomato. We don’t need much, as we don’t want the filling to be very saucy.
Now it’s time for the rest of the chopped veggies to go in, along with a glass of water and the seasoning. I only add a little bit of salt, freshly ground pepper and a couple of bay leaves. The bay leaves are optional but I highly recommend them as they will add some extra flavour and aromas to the filling. I cover the pan with a lid and let it cook over medium to low heat for about half an hour. Now is the time to prepare the zucchinis and the bechamel sauce while the ground beef filling is being cooked.
To make the stuffed zucchini boats, I use 4 medium-sized zucchinis that I cut in half lengthwise after removing the hard ends. Using a spoon, I remove the flesh from each zucchini boat carefully not to break any of the exterior. I leave around 1cm/ 0.5in of flesh all around, enough to be able to cook whilst in the oven and give me a good balance of flavour with the rest of the ingredients. Then, I add a little bit of oil to the bottom of a tray and I place the 8 zucchini boats in, ready to be filled.
While the ground beef filling for the stuffed zucchini boats is being cooked, it’s time to prepare the bechamel sauce. Making the bechamel sauce is not overly complicated and takes around 10 minutes, but you need to be there, on top of the pot for those 10 minutes. The ingredients are really simple, all you need is butter, flour, milk, salt, nutmeg and an egg.
We need the same amount of butter and plain flour. For this recipe, I use 50 grams of butter and 50 grams of plain flour or for US metrics that will be 1/2 stick of butter and 1/4 cup & 1 tablespoons of flour. I start by adding the butter to the pot and let it melt over medium heat. Careful not to let it burn, we just want it to melt. Then I add the flour to the pot and using a whisk, I combine the flour with the melted butter and let it cook for a minute until it gets a golden brown colour. This will prevent your bechamel from having a floury taste. For this minute of cooking the flour, you need to continue whisking as you want to prevent getting any lumps.
Now it’s time to start adding the milk. My milk is at room temperature and I have it in a jar so it’s easy to pour into the pot slowly without creating a mess on my worktop. I add the milk little by little and not all at once. So the process is, add a little bit of milk then vigorously whisk and let it get absorbed by the roux. Then repeat until all milk is done. As you add more milk, you will see that the sauce is becoming more runny whereas at the start it will look more doughy.
When all the milk is added the bechamel sauce is basically ready, so I turn off the heat and now it’s time for the spices. Just a little bit of salt for taste and some ground nutmeg, a key ingredient for the greek style bechamel sauce. I also like to add one egg yolk that will give my sauce a nice light yellow colour but this is completely optional.
Now it’s time to assemble the zucchini boats and bake them. I add about a heaped tablespoon of ground beef filling to each zucchini boat and then using a ladle, I add the bechamel sauce on top of each zucchini. When they are all filled, put the tray in the oven and bake for about an hour until the bechamel sauce has some brown spots on top but it’s not burnt and the zucchinis are nice and tender.
You can serve these stuffed zucchini boats with ground beef as a main with some salad on the side. We usually have 2 zucchini boats per person, or one if I’m serving my toddler. I recommend having them warm and fresh when they come out of the oven, and the bechamel is nice and creamy.
If you have any leftovers, then I recommend storing the zucchini boats in the fridge and consume them within the next couple of days. When you are ready to eat them, just warm them up in the microwave for a couple of minutes or in the oven for 4-5 minutes. I don’t recommend freezing them, as the zucchinis will get very watery and break down when defrosted. However, you could make the ground beef in advance and freeze it or store it in the fridge and continue with the recipe another day.
What can I put on the zucchini boats instead of bechamel sauce? If you are on a low-carb diet or simply can’t be bothered making the bechamel sauce, then you could just grate some hard cheese like cheddar or parmesan on top.
How can I make the bechamel sauce without dairy? You could use oil instead of butter in the same ratio with flour, 1:1. For example, if you use 50gr of oil then you will need 50gr of flour or if you prefer to use spoons then 4 tablespoons of oil with 7 tablespoons of flour. Instead of cow’s milk, you could use any dairy-free milk of your choice, like coconut or almond milk.
Can little children have stuffed zucchini boats with ground beef? Yes, of course. Stuffed zucchini boats are very healthy as they contain veggies and protein. If you are concerned about the salt intake, or you are sharing with a baby under 12 months, then I recommend not adding any salt to the ground beef filling and to the bechamel sauce.
What can I do with the leftover bechamel sauce? If you have any leftover bechamel sauce, you could store it in the fridge for up to 2 days. You could use it on top of pasta, casseroles or roasted veggies.
Other Recipes to Try
If you liked my recipe for stuffed zucchini boats with ground beef, check out these recipes with zucchinis too
Stuffed Zucchini Boats With Ground BeefYou are going to love this recipe for zucchini boats with ground beef and bechamel sauce. This hearty meaty dish with the tender baked zucchinis and creamy bechamel sauce on top will impress the whole family and become one of your favourites. Perfect for those summer months when you have an excess amount of zucchinis from your garden!
Zucchini Boats & Ground Beef Filling Ingredients
- 4 zucchinis / courgettes
- 4 mushrooms
- 1 red or green bell pepper
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 500gr / 1lb ground beef
- 1/8 cup red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- salt & pepper
Bechamel Sauce Ingredients
- 50gr / 1/2 stick butter
- 50gr / 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp plain flour
- 400ml / 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 egg yolk
- For cooking the ground beef filling, start with chopping the vegetables. Cut the onion into cubes, the pepper into strips, roughly chop the garlic cloves and slice the mushrooms.
- In a pot, add 4 tbsp of olive oil and heat it up over medium heat.
- Add the chopped onion and let it cook for 5-6 minutes until soft and clear.
- Add the ground beef and with the spatula, try to break it down. Let it cook for 6-8 minutes until it has a nice brown colour.
- Add the red wine and leave it for 2-3 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.
- Add the tomato paste and stir for 1-2 minutes to get all the flavour and sweetness to come out.
- Add the chopped garlic, pepper, mushrooms, salt, pepper, bay leaves and one cup of water. Cover and let it cook for 30-40 minutes over medium to low heat.
- While the ground beef is being cooked, prepare the zucchinis and the bechamel sauce.
- Remove the hard ends from the zucchinis and cut each one into half lengthwise. Using a spoon remove the flesh, forming a zucchini boat with around 1cm / 0/5in exterior.
- Add a little bit of olive oil to the bottom of a tray and place the zucchini boats in.
- For the bechamel sauce, start by adding the butter to a pot and let it melt over medium heat. Be careful so it doesn't get burnt.
- Add the flour and using a wooden spatula or a whisk, combine the flour with the melted butter and stir for 1-2 minutes until the flour has a nice golden brown colour and no lumps.
- Add a little bit of milk and vigorously whisk until it's absorbed by the roux.
- Continue adding the milk little by little while whisking until it's all in. The bechamel will look more doughy to start and gradually will get nice and creamy.
- When the sauce is ready, turn off the heat. Add the ground nutmeg, salt and egg yolk and incorporate with the sauce.
- When the filling is ready, add about one heaped tablespoon to each zucchini boat. Then add some bechamel sauce on top of each zucchini using a ladle.
- Bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes at 180°C/350°F until the zucchinis are tender and the sauce has nice brown spots on it.
- You could substitute the butter with oil in the same amount and use coconut or almond milk for a dairy-free version.
You could store any leftover stuffed zucchini boats in the fridge and consume them within the next couple of days. Simply, take them out of the fridge and warm up in the microwave for a couple of minutes or in the oven for 5-6 minutes until hot all through.
Nutrition Info (per serving)
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.