One word sums up this vegan zucchini pasta dish: FLAVOR. The recipe combines my favorite recipe for vegan ricotta cheese with a new recipe for chickpea Italian sausage, and rolls it all up in decadent (but secretly healthy) zucchini pinwheels.
Only 238 calories per serving!
Chickpeas mashed with savory umami-packed seasonings make the perfect texture and flavor for vegan sausage. Extra firm tofu also mimics the texture of ricotta pretty well when crumbled. Three techniques explained further below will keep the casserole from getting watery.
Would it be easier to just layer the noodles flat into a zucchini lasagna rather than roll them into pinwheels? Yeah, probably. But they definitely wouldn’t be as cute! So get ready to roll up your sleeves – and your zucchini slices – and feast on this vegan masterpiece.
Texture for vegan meat and cheese substitutes
Chickpeas are arguably the most versatile meat substitute in the texture department. You can shred them into a vegan tuna salad, mash them into faux ground meat, and even process them into flour for gluten free baking.
Chickpeas are great cold or warm, soft or crunchy. They’re also tasty on their own (check out this recipe for crispy air fryer chickpea snacks)!
This recipe for vegan sausage begins with mashing the chickpeas into a crumbly texture. Then you mix in a TON of umami packed seasonings to give it a true meat taste. Green olives, tamari, and tomato sauce bring in the savory goodness while oregano, thyme, and paprika drive home the Italian sausage flavor.
Tofu provides a neutral base and is available in different firmness levels. For vegan ricotta cheese used in this recipe, extra firm tofu works well when you crumble with a fork or mash it with your hands.
I normally recommend nuts like cashews for vegan cheese recipes, but in this case tofu gives the texture we’re looking for (and, fortunately, takes a lot less time to prep than cashew cheese).
How to prevent watery zucchini noodles
Watery zucchini, combined with diluted sauce and moist chickpea mash, can spell disaster for a plant based pasta. Follow these 3 tips to keep the zucchini pasta pinwheels from getting soggy:
- Reduce your marina by cooking it down until a lot of the water evaporates. Regular marinara sauce is fine for a bowl of spaghetti, but when you’re baking a casserole with other wet ingredients, the sauce needs to be thicker for the whole dish to hold up.
- Prep by cooking the chickpea sausage before baking. There is natural moisture inside chickpeas that will make the mash slightly wet. By cooking up some onions and garlic and then adding the chickpea sausage mash to the pan, you’ll remove some of that excess water while also adding flavor.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: salt your zucchini!!! Generously sprinkling salt over the slices prior to using them draws out the water. Let the salted slices rest for 10 minutes before wiping off the excess moisture.
Tips for perfect pasta pinwheels
Start by using a mandoline to slice your zucchini about 1/4″ thin. Any thicker and they will crack when rolled. But if you make the slices too thin, the stuffing can push through the delicate zucchini seed holes.
Don’t overstuff the filling. Depending on how big your zucchinis are, you only need 1-2 tbsp of filling per pinwheel. Plop the sausage and ricotta in the middle, then use your fingers to spread it out lengthwise, leaving empty space on the ends. As you roll, the stuffing will automatically push out to the ends.
The tofu and chickpea mash will naturally hold the pinwheels together fairly well, but use the edge of your casserole dish to support them as you transfer the first pinwheels into the marinara. Start by placing the pinwheels in a circle along the outer edge, then work your way inwards.
Don’t be intimidated! It’s easy and fun, even for kids. It only takes a few minutes to fill the casserole dish.
After 30 minutes in the oven it’s ready to be served and topped with fresh basil, cashew Parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper. Enjoy!Print
Rolled up zucchini noodles make a perfect pinwheel for lasagna, and Italian seasonings pack in the flavor in the chickpea sausage & tofu ricotta.
Pinwheels & sauce
- 3 medium zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise using a mandoline
- 2 ½ cups marinara sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups baby spinach
- 1 15-oz package firm tofu, drained and pressed
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp brewers yeast
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- 1 ½ tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
Italian chickpea sausage crumbles
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup diced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ 15-oz cans low sodium chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp green olives, chopped
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp tamari
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp ground sage
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp black pepper
Suggested toppings: fresh basil, cashew Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes
- In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and heat for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add sauce and spinach, stir, and continue to heat on medium in order to reduce the sauce until it thickens, about 10 minutes. Then set aside.
- Roll the rinsed chickpeas around in a clean lint-free kitchen towel to dry thoroughly and help remove the skins. You don’t have to remove them all, just the majority. In a large bowl, crumble the chickpeas with a fork or potato masher. Stir in the olives, tamari, vinegar, and sausage seasonings.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil on low heat in a medium pan. Add the diced onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and heat for another 30 seconds.
- Add the chickpea mixture to the pan, stir, and increase heat to medium. Cook for another 5 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Line a baking sheet with a couple layers of paper towels. Lay the zucchini slices flat on the towels and sprinkle generously with salt. Place one layer of paper towels on top of the salted slices, let rest for 10 mins, then wipe clean to remove excess moisture from the zucchini.
- In a large bowl, crumble the tofu with a fork or your fingers until it takes on a ricotta like consistency. Add the yeasts, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine, taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a round casserole dish, pour in marinara, and set aside.
- On each slice of zucchini, spread about ½ tbsp each of the ricotta and sausage mixtures. Roll up each zucchini slice into pinwheels. Gently place each one in the marinara casserole dish.
- Bake for 30 minutes and serve warm. Consider topping with fresh basil, cashew Parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes.