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Last Minute Meaty Zucchini Marinara

zucchini marinara
I get asked every once in a while by friends what I’m fixing for dinner and it’s usually a surprise to them when I say “I don’t know, I don’t decide until 4:30 or 5:00.”  There are definitely times that I’ve planned ahead and prepped well in advance of dinnertime, but mostly I just keep a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator and make what sounds good on a meal-by-meal basis.

Which is not to say that I don’t have those nights where I stand in front of the open fridge, staring while it beeps at me to close the door, and moan aloud, “I don’t know what to fix” or “Nothing sounds good.”  Just like those mornings when I stand in front of the open closet staring while I moan, “I have nothing to wear.”  Because somehow the clothes or food I have are never the clothes or food I want.  Why is that?  Anyway, I digress.

zucchini marinara

On those nights when I’m all out of ideas, it’s nice to have a sure-fire to fall back on and in that case, it’s this faux-spaghetti with meat sauce that we just call zucchini marinara.  I pretty much always have marinara on hand and I’ll admit, it’s usually store-bought.  There is some great homemade-quality marinara out there and most of the time I’m more than willing to buy it for the time savings.  I go into more detail about quality marinara in the recipe, but it boils down to sauce made with a small number of pronounceable ingredients.

meaty zucchini marinara

My kids like this zucchini marinara as well as the Mister and I do and for a while they thought it was made with actual noodles, it’s that good.  This is funny because my youngest hates pasta and zucchini and he just slurps this up.  Kids are funny.

Last Minute Meaty “Spaghetti” Marinara

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings, depending on hunger

Last Minute Meaty “Spaghetti” Marinara


  • 2 long, green zucchini squash
  • 2/3 pound pastured ground beef
  • 2 cups good quality marinara sauce (see note)
  • Ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh basil, julienned (optional)
  • Parmesan, grated (optional)


  • 1. Place the ground beef in a large sauté pan over medium heat and break up with a spatula. Allow the meat to brown while you prep the zucchini.
  • 2. Wash and trim the zucchini and halve lengthwise. Using a julienne blade on a mandolin slicer or a julienne peeler, cut the four zucchini halves into “noodle” strips. By now the beef should almost be cooked through, so add the zucchini to the pan and allow to cook for a moment while you julienne basil and grate Parmesan (if using), or clean-up your prep area.
  • 3. Add the marinara sauce and part of the basil (if using) and stir everything together to combine. Start with one cup and keep adding until it’s to your sauciness preference. Let the sauce come to a simmer and cook for a couple minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with remaining basil (if using), and serve. Top with freshly grated Parmesan if you’re serving this to kids who insist that spaghetti in any form should come with cheese.


If you don’t have homemade marinara sitting around at home, make sure you get the good stuff at the store. This means it will probably be labeled “natural” or “artisan” and it should have no sugar added, no oil other than olive added, and no more than seven or eight ingredients. You’re looking for something that has the same ingredients you would use at home.


What’s your go-to, out-of-ideas dinner recipe?



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