What’s inside: Made with zucchini noodles, ground beef, a creamy cashew cheese sauce, and homemade red pepper romesco, this comforting zoodle recipe is nutrient-dense, flavorful and gluten-free! It’s also a Whole30-compliant dinner casserole and Paleo-friendly, too.
This post has been sponsored by Divine Flavor. All thoughts and opinions are my own and as a reminder, I only work with brands I use and would recommend.
Why You’ll Love This Gluten-Free Baked Ziti
Sometimes, you just need a cozy, comforting dish. And this paleo, gluten-free zucchini-baked ziti is just that dish. Made with mild-flavored zucchini, a sweet red pepper romesco, an Italian-inspired meat mixture, with layers of my creamy dairy-free cashew cheese sauce, this dish is packed with flavor!
And in my nutrition practice, a lot of my patients are on special diets such as paleo, Whole30, and dairy-free and are looking for quick, easy, and flavorful dishes. And this zucchini-baked ziti checks all those boxes! While there is nothing better than a hearty lasagna, baked ziti is so much quicker since there isn’t a formal layering step. Just mix all the components, bake, and voila! Dinner is served!
And the romesco sauce is amazing! It elevates this dish to the next level. With the use of the sweet red peppers, it’s subtly sweet, with a hint of heat, which allows you to control how spicy you’d like it with the amount of paprika you toss in!
And if you’re looking for another way to use zoodles and this romesco sauce, vary up my Shrimp with Zoodles recipe for another quick, easy, delicious AIP-friendly and paleo recipe!
How To Make Zucchini Noodles
While you can buy pre-made zucchini noodles in some grocery stores, making them yourself is so much cheaper. And no matter what tools you may have in your kitchen, you should be able to easily make a batch of zoodles from scratch! Here are a few ways to whip up these healthy gluten-free alternatives:
Countertop Spiralizer: While countertop spiralizers are the fastest way to make zoodles, they tend to take up a lot of storage space and can be on the pricer side. But if you happen to have one, simply cut off the ends of the zucchini, attach it to the machine and spin out the zoodles!
Handheld Spiralizer: Tend to be smaller than countertop spiralizers, handheld spiralizers are recommended for people who don’t plan to use it much. To make zoodles, cut off the ends of the zucchini and place them in the spiralizer, and twist away to get a perfect zoodle!
Mandoline: Using a mandoline won’t give you the curly shape like a spiralizer will but it will still produce a more “noodle” shape. To use, cut the ends off the zucchini. Then making sure the mandoline is firmly in place, hold the zucchini against the blade lengthwise and cut away!
Vegetable Peeler: This trusty gadget is perfect when you want zoodles but don’t have any fancy equipment! Whip out the peeler and start shaving off slices of zucchini, keeping in mind this technique will produce more of a ribbon. If you’d like a thinner noodle, use a knife to cut it into smaller strips.
Ingredients for Dairy-Free Cashew Cheese Sauce
1 cup cashews
Boiling hot water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
Pinch sea salt
1 large egg
Ingredients for Red Pepper Romesco
4 Tribelli Divine Flavor Sweet Peppers, red
1 garlic clove minced
½ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup tomato puree
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for Meat and Ziti Mix
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb. ground meat
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 medium yellow onion
2-3 large spiralized zucchini
How To Make Whole30 Baked Ziti with Ground Beef
Place cashews in a large pot, cover with water, and boil for a minimum of 30 minutes.
While cashews are softening, make the romesco meat sauce. Lightly roast each sweet pepper over an open flame on your stovetop using tongs. Rotate each pepper for just a couple of minutes until there are light blisters. Set aside and cool.
Once cool enough, discard the seeds and roughly chop the peppers. Toss into the food processor with remaining ingredients and pulse until blended. Set aside.
Over medium heat, heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add ground beef, breaking it into chunks with a spoon. While cooking beef, add in seasonings and cook until meat is no longer pink.
Add romesco sauce to the meat mixture and coat. Reduce heat to low and heat until slightly bubbling.
Roughly chop spiralized zoodles into bite-size pieces. Add to pan with tongs and gently coat in the romesco meat sauce. Turn off heat.
Finish the cheese sauce by draining cashews. Add them to a blender with lemon juice, nutritional yeast, salt, and egg. Mix until blended.
In a prepared baking dish, spoon a layer of the romesco meat sauce with coated zoodles into the bottom of the dish. Then pour a layer of cashew cheese sauce. Repeat until the dairy-free cashew cheese sauce is the last layer on top of the entire casserole.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Add in more nutritional yeast to the top mid-way and set to broil for a few minutes if you’d like more cheese flavor and color. Serve warm and enjoy!
Tips and Variations
Top with goat cheese if you are able to tolerate (omit for strict paleo or whole30)
Swap out ½ of the ground beef with ½ ground pork, turkey, chicken, or even Italian sausage
Freshly minced garlic is best but feel free to use pre-minced if that’s what you have on hand.
Skip baking and make it more of a zoodle pasta dish that’s ready in just 30-minute!
Store any leftover zucchini baked ziti in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
What size casserole dish should be used for this recipe?
This recipe uses an 8×8 casserole dish but a 9×13 will work well too.
Can I make Zucchini Baked Ziti ahead of time?
Sure can! Zucchini Baked Ziti can be made up to 5 days in advance. Prepare the cheese sauce, meat with romesco, and zucchini noodles according to the recipe and place them in individual airtight containers in the fridge. When ready to enjoy, pull out containers and assemble and bake according to the recipe!
What’s the difference between lasagna and ziti?
Lasagna and baked ziti are two very similar dishes; both are Italian-inspired pasta dishes that are baked with sauce and cheese. But traditionally, lasagna is made with long flat noodles that are layered with sauce, meat, veggies, and cheese and baked. Whereas baked ziti is made with noodles that are tossed in the sauce, meat, and veggies then sprinkled with cheese and baked.
Made with zucchini noodles, ground beef, a creamy dairy-free cashew sauce, and homemade red pepper romesco, this comforting zoodle recipe is nutrient-dense, flavorful, and gluten-free! It's also Whole30 compliant dinner casserole, and Paleo-friendly, too!
¼tspsmoked paprikaor up to 1 tsp if you like it spicy
½cupextra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1lb.ground meatcan do ½ and ½ of beef and pork or anything you have on hand
1medium yellow onion
Boil water and add over cashews to completely cover, let sit for 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the romesco meat sauce.
Using tongs, carefully, lightly roast each sweet pepper over an open flame on your stove top. Rotate the pepper, just for a couple of minutes for each pepper until you have light blisters. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, roughly chop peppers (discard the inside and seeds), toss the peppers in your food processor with the rest of the ingredients and pulse until well blended into a sauce. Set aside.
To a skillet, add olive oil with chopped onions over medium heat and lightly cook until translucent for a few minutes, then add in the ground meat breaking it up with a spoon. Cook, while mixing well and adding in seasonings until the meat, is cooked (no red/raw meat is showing anymore).
Add romesco sauce over top of meat and reduce heat to low until well coated and slightly bubbling.
Roughly chop spiralized zoodles (I made mine into the large ribbon-like pieces, but any shape will do!), into bite-size pieces so it’s less stringy. Add to pan and with tongs, coat completely in the romesco meat sauce. Turn heat off.
Finish up the cheese by draining cashews, and adding them to a blender or food processor with lemon, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt and egg. Mix until well blended – it’s okay if it’s very loose, it will stiffen up in the oven.
Time to assemble!
Add a layer of the romesco meat sauce with coated zoodles to the bottom of your baking dish (8-inch should work well!)
Then pour in a layer of the cashew cheese. Repeat this with the cashew cheese left last on top of the entire ziti.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, optionally add more nutritional yeast to the top mid-way and broil for a little more color for just a minute or two – watch carefully. Serve!