Chef Melinda Aponte’s Zucchini Lasagna

Melinda Aponte is the nutrition coordinator for the YWCA of Asheville’s Early Learning Program. She’s worked with several local farms to provide the children with fresh, healthy meals daily. She is pictured on the left with farmer Hannah Jeske of R Farm.

I’m sharing this recipe because it’s so homey. There’s something about a casserole—lasagna or something baked—that just speaks to your soul. My family absolutely loves this recipe. It’s super easy and I enjoy meals that have leftovers. You can change it up with different variations, whether you want to make it vegan or gluten-free, so it’s accessible for people that have dietary needs. (I’ve tried it dairy-free and it was extremely delicious.)

I’ve always been a huge fan of sourcing locally. My main reason is that I know the importance of eating locally and seasonally for your health and your well-being. And just helping the world by bringing down your carbon footprint and sourcing local produce and proteins is a fantastic thing. Another plus is that you’re helping a local farmer to continue to thrive in this economy. So from all angles, everyone wins! You win by getting delicious, fresh, locally grown vegetables—and you’re helping a farmer to continue to grow.

Right now we’re working with R Farm. I love the fact that the farmer is a woman and she owns the farm. One of the major things I was looking for is a farmer that understands the importance of rotating the crops and not overly saturating the ground. Hannah does that. It’s important to make sure that we take care of the ground so we can continue to grow healthy and robust produce.

My all-time favorite season is summer! Summer is a fantastic season for fresh fruits and veggies, minimal ingredients, and using fire with grills or pits. I love when less is more.


  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds zucchini (3-4 large, 9-inch long ), cut into 16 to 18 slices, about 1/4-inch thick.
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Meat Sauce

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 4–6 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb, beef, or turkey, or use a vegan substitute like Beyond beef crumbles
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • 3 cups marinara sauce, divided
  • pinch chili flakes (optional)
  • 8 basil leaves, torn

Ricotta Mixture

  • 15–16 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 ounces pecorino Romano (about 1/2 cup grated), divided


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice zucchini into 1/4-inch slices. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan, spray or brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in the hot oven, for 20-ish minutes, or until fork-tender. Set aside. Alternatively, you can grill zucchini over medium-high until tender for even more flavor.
  3. In a large saucepan or skillet, sauté the onion, garlic, and optional fennel seeds in a little oil, for 1-2 minutes, over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat (or vegan meat), lower heat to medium, and break it apart with a metal spatula, until completely crumbled and cooked through, about 8-10 minutes (vegan meat will take much less time). Drain any of the fat. Return meat to the pan and add salt, pepper, oregano, and 2 cups marinara sauce. Give a good stir, cover, and bring to a gentle simmer until heated all the way through. Stir in torn basil leaves.
  4. Mix the ricotta cheese in a medium bowl with the egg and nutmeg.
  5. Grease a 9 x13 inch pan. Pour 1/2 cup of marinara to coat the bottom lightly. Place 8-9 slices of zucchini ( save the prettiest, most uniform ones for the top) to cover the bottom. Pour the meat sauce over top. Spoon the ricotta mixture over the meat sauce and spread it around. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the grated pecorino cheese. Add the top layer of zucchini. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of marinara over top and spread evenly into a thin layer. Dust with the remaining pecorino.
  6. Wipe off the edges of the pan, cover with foil, and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking, until golden and bubbling, 5-10 more minutes.

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