These zucchini rolls are my variation on one of my favorite dinner recipes, Vegan Stuffed Shells, from PopSugar. I decided to use zucchini because 1) I was curious how it would turn out and 2) I didn’t have any large shells and I had three zucchinis instead.
You can make your own homemade pasta sauce or use store-bought. If using store-bought, read the ingredients as always because some pasta sauces like marinara have beef or pork flavoring or even Parmesan cheeses added. I’ve grouped each component of the dish together for convenience.
There are a lot of steps to this, but you can save time by getting your pasta sauce on the stove and then moving on and pressing the tofu and prepping the zucchini into slices while your sauce simmers. Moving in chunks saves time so that you’re not waiting for one thing to be done so that you can move on to the next.
A jar of store-bought pasta sauce is fine, but I like to make my own using the recipe below. Feel free to adjust or omit based on your preferences.
28 ounces petite, diced tomatoes or canned whole tomatoes
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 tbs. olive oil or vegan butter
1/2 tbs. dried oregano
1/2 tbs. dried basil
1 large dry bay leaf or 2 small bay leaves
1/2 tsp. of sweetener of choice (I use half a packet of stevia. You need something to cut the acid from the tomatoes)
1-2 tbs. nutritional yeast
1/2 cup cashews, soaked overnight (these are optional. I like the grainy texture that cashews give the sauce because it reminds me of the grainy texture of store-bought three-cheese pasta sauces and the cashews don’t add flavor)
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
I use PopSugar’s recipe so please check that link out. My additions to the recipe are marked with an asterisk.
14 ounces or one package extra firm tofu, pressed for 20 minutes
Small handful of fresh basil leaves, washed*
2 handfuls of fresh spinach, washed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 – 1 tbs. nutritional yeast*
2-3 large zucchini
Large glass baking dish
Steps & Prep
Get your tomato sauce on the stove. Empty the canned tomatoes and tomato paste into a medium sized sauce pan. Add the peeled garlic, both halves of the onion (be sure to remove the peel and cut in half), dried oregano, dried basil, olive oil, and bay leaf to the tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a boil, cover, and then simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the tomatoes have reduced.
While your pasta sauce is simmering, prep your tofu for the ricotta and the zucchini.
Drain the package of tofu and wrap the block in paper towels. If you’re fancy, use a tofu press to squeeze out the water, or if you’re not fancy like I am, grab something heavy like a thick cookbook and place it on top of the wrapped tofu. Press the tofu for at least 20 minutes or until all of the water is squeezed out.
For the zucchini rolls, wash and peel the zucchini. You really need a mandolin slicer to get the nice thin, long, slices. I alternated between 1.5 mm and 2.5 mm for the thickness. The thinner you go, the smaller your rolls will turn out but anything above 2.5 mm will make the zucchini too hard to roll up. Slice your zucchini using your preferred thickness with the mandolin slicer.
Lay out the zucchini slices evenly on top of paper towels, sprinkle with a very small amount of salt, and cover with more paper towels. Lightly press on top of the zucchinis and let the slices rest while you prep your ricotta. This step is important because zucchini has a high water content and too much water will ruin the sauce when you bake everything.
By now, your sauce should be reduced enough. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool while you make the tofu ricotta.
Unwrap the pressed tofu and add it to the blender along with all of the ricotta ingredients listed. Blend on medium to low stopping to scrap down the sides of the blender. The spinach and basil will take a little while to blend into the tofu. Add small amounts of water if the ricotta is too thick. Blend everything until smooth and set aside. Rinse out the blender.
Remove the bay leaves from the cooled tomato sauce and pour everything into the blender. Add the remaining ingredients including the cashews and sweetener. Adding sugar or a sweetener like stevia cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and balances out the sauce.
NEVER BLEND HOT LIQUIDS IN A FULLY COVERED BLENDER!!! The heat will build up pressure and your lid will explode. I lift up a corner of the lid and cover it lightly with a towel so that the pressure doesn’t build up, but the sauce doesn’t splatter everywhere. Blend all of your pasta sauce until smooth and add salt, pepper, or garlic powder to taste.
Now you can start putting everything together. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom of the glass baking dish. Take one zucchini slice and spread a thick layer of the tofu ricotta onto the slice. Roll up the zucchini slice. I found that starting at the more narrow end of the zucchini and rolling out the the larger end works best. Place the zucchini roll seam down into the glass dish and repeat until all of the ricotta is used up.
Pour just enough of the tomato sauce to cover the top of the rolls and cover the dish with tin foil. Bake in the oven at 4oo degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Check and remove the tin foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Use hot pads and carefully remove the glass dish from the oven. Let the rolls cool before serving.
You can sprinkle a little vegan shredded mozzarella on top or vegan Parmesan cheese to serve. Happy cooking!