Are you wishing for January to be over yet? Did you adopt some New Year’s dieting resolutions and are now wading in a deep sea of regret and anger? Haha, I’m not!
Even though I’ve bravely tried Whole30/clean eating before, January in London is not the time for me to do that. It’s cold, wet and dark, and food is where I find my solace. Punishing myself further by abstaining from carbs, refined sugar and dairy is just a recipe for disaster. But the hubby, after I coated him in goose fat, pie and braised lamb over the holidays, decided to do a Whole30 all by himself. The depths of this man’s resolve never fail to astound me.
In a fit of sympathy and after watching him scarf sad desk salads day after day, I finally manned up one night and created this spicy beef zucchini bake for him. And — whaddya know? It’s a huge hit with everyone in our house!
I made a video to show you how to assemble this spicy beef zucchini bake. It’s a layered baked dish, with long thin slices of zucchini topped with a zesty mix of bell peppers, ground beef, pancetta, and tomatoes, followed by a layer of fresh chopped spinach and topped off with another layer of zucchini slices and ground almonds (for crunch).
The first time I made it, I happened to have these ridiculously ginormous zucchini that I’d found at a market nearby and bought because I apparently cannot resist comically large produce. Seriously, these zucchini were so huge that they looked like they’d eaten smaller zucchini for breakfast. I wound up with way too much zucchini, and I’m trying really hard in 2018 to waste less food (shouldn’t we all?). Hence, the spicy beef zucchini bake was born.
The beauty of the dish lies in the intense flavor of this spicy beef — it’s really important that you use pancetta to form the base of this really tasty sauce. Not only does pancetta infuse porkiness, but it’s also key to adding some smokiness to the spice. I also really feel like the only way you can really, truly enjoy a carb-free, dairy-free dish is to make sure that you’ve got some intense flavors coming through somewhere. Otherwise, you’re just one step above a sad desk salad, staring at a pile of roasted vegetables with not much else.
When the hubby got home from his long workday, I heaped a warm pile of this bake on his plate. He inhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and dug in. After a few bites, he sighed and looked at me quizzically.
“This is going up on the blog, right?”
“What do you think?”
“Can’t talk. Busy eating.”
Yeah, so that’s why it’s here.
- ½ pound (250g) lean ground beef
- 1 cup (150 g) diced pancetta
- ½ large red onion (or 1 small onion)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 red chili pepper (or other spicy pepper), seeded and minced
- 1 14-ounce (400 g) can of chopped tomatoes.
- 3 medium zucchini
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 cups packed baby spinach (approximately 125 g)
- 1 cup ground almond meal
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Optional: 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper, for seasoning
- Wash the zucchini and cut the ends off. Cut each zucchini in half crosswise, then slice each half into thin, ¼-inch slices. Spread the slices out on paper towels, cover with another layer of paper towels and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a square baking dish or oval casserole dish.
- Heat a skillet over medium-low heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and saute until soft and almost translucent, then add the cumin and the chili powder and continue to cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onions and well-blended with the spices. If the mixture looks a little dry, splash a little more olive oil into the pan.
- Add the red bell pepper, garlic and minced chili pepper. Stir and continue to cook until the bell pepper is soft and everything is well blended, another 4-5 minutes. Transfer the cooked veggies to a bowl and set aside.
- Return the pan to the heat (no need to clean it out) and add the pancetta. Cook the pancetta over medium-low heat until the fat is rendered (i.e., melted in the pan) and the pancetta is almost crisp. Add the ground beef, turn the heat up to medium high and continue to cook until the ground beef is browned, about 5-6 minutes. Add the veggies and tomatoes, reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer until the tomatoes are wilted and the sauce is thick, about 10-15 minutes. Taste the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. If the mixture tastes acidic (i.e., it has a bite), add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to sweeten the mixture a little.
- Layer half of the zucchini slices in the baking dish, allowing the slices to overlap slightly. Remove the ground beef mixture from the heat and spoon half of the mixture on top of the zucchini, using a spatula to spread it evenly over the zucchini.
- Top the zucchini with the chopped spinach in a single layer. Layer the other half of the zucchini slices on top of the spinach, then top the zucchini with the remaining sauce.
- Mix the ½ cup of olive oil with the ground almond meal and dried oregano, then sprinkle it on top of the sauce.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the top of the bake is browned and the sides are bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then serve.