These caprese zucchini cups are fun appetizers bursting with fresh Italian flavor, that you can serve hot or cold: versatile and great for any occasion!
Imagine scooped-out slices of zucchini, filled with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, roasted for a crispy cheese gratin crust and topped with sweet balsamic vinegar!
These easy zucchini bites can take the place of bruschetta on a low-carb or keto diet. It’s a delicious finger/party food, super simple to make – but without all the bruschetta bread carbs!
Or you could call this a mini zucchini pizza as well, after all they are delicious small slices of zucchini topped with tomatoes and melted cheese. I’d say these appetizers look too elegant to be called a mini pizza, though!
Why you’ll love this recipe
- Easy and fun to make, with few simple and wholesome ingredients
- The caprese stuffed zucchini cups can be prepared in advance
- After roasting in the oven or in the air fryer, they can be served hot or cold
- It’s a low-calorie and low-carb finger food that tastes and looks amazing!
Ingredients and substitutions
This easy cheesy zucchini and tomato appetizers takes only 4 basic ingredients:
- Zucchini: Two medium zucchini makes about 16 appetizers
- Tomatoes: Fresh and sweet cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
- Fresh mozzarella (or any cheese really, see alternatives below)
- Balsamic vinegar: I like using a pretty thick balsamic for this recipe as it’s just less messy to serve, especially if it’s going to be eaten by hand.
- Basil: You can use fresh basil or dried basil. If using fresh basil, add it after baking so the leaves will remain fresh and bright green.
I choose mozzarella because it melts bubbly and it covers the zucchini in a delicious gratinated crust! My inspiration for this recipe was the fresh taste of caprese salad, which is made of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.
You can, however, use any other type of cheese that you like here. Other great options are Greek feta, Gorgonzola or Gruyere.
Just imagine what flavor you like paired with tomato and balsamic. It’s hard to come up with a wrong choice, really!
Tips to choose zucchini
If you are interested in using up an abundance of zucchini from your own garden, feel free to use up any of them, regardless of shape, size or age. This is the perfect recipe to use up all the zucchini, even extra-large zucchini!
You don’t have to worry that the zucchini might be too large and full of big seeds, as most of the seeds will be scooped out anyway.
Plus this recipe is roasted, so it will taste great even if you use older, bitterer zucchini. The taste will mellow out in the oven heat as it bakes.
But if you are going to buy zucchini at the grocery store for this recipe, choose younger zucchini: smaller zucchini will have less seeds, smaller seeds and a more pleasant taste.
For a nicer presentation, try to get similar sized zucchini with a straighter shape so the cups will all look about the same.
How to make step-by-step
1. Preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If using the air fryer, there’s no need to preheat.
2. Prepare the ingredients: Wash the zucchini well to remove dirt and pesticides. The best way to do it is by gently scrubbing them with a tawashi brush.
Rinse the cherry tomatoes, and grate or just crumble the mozzarella cheese by hand into very small pieces.
3. Carve the zucchini cups: Cut off a bit of the zucchini bottom away first to make it flat, or the zucchini cup it won’t stay up.
Then, holding by the stem side, cut the zucchini in slices about 1 1/4 inch thick (3 centimeters).
Using a melon baller or a small measuring (round) spoon, core the zucchini slices by scooping out the flesh from the center of each slice. This will create the hollow that will be filled with cheese and tomatoes.
Be careful not to carve in too deep, otherwise the melted cheese will ooze out of the bottom.
4. Stuff the zucchini: Fill the holes with about 1 teaspoon of grated or crumbled cheese (I used fresh mozzarella). Sprinkle some salt and black pepper to taste.
If you don’t have fresh basil to add as garnish before serving, but have some dried basil available, you can add a sprinkle of it right now instead.
Deposit one cherry or grape tomato into each zucchini cup.
5. Roast in the oven or air fryer: Transfer the stuffed zucchini cups to a baking tray lined with parchment paper, or arrange them in the air fryer basket, leaving some space in between them.
Roast at 400 °F (200 °C) for 20 to 25 minutes, until the mozzarella is bubbling out of the cups and the tomatoes start bursting.
To serve, arrange the stuffed zucchini bites on a bed of fresh basil leaves and drizzle them with balsamic vinegar. I like to finish it with a light sprinkle of fleur de sel to bring out the flavor!
Serve the zucchini bites hot or cold
After baked, you can serve the zucchini bites straight away as a hot appetizer or you can just serve them cold as well.
These stuffed zucchini cups are equally delicious cold, so if you prepare them in advance for a brunch or party there’s no need to warm them up!
Prepare in advance
You can assemble the zucchini cups up to 2 days in advance. Keep them refrigerated and roast them just before serving.
Storage and reheating
Keep the leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
I do not recommend freezing the zucchini bites, as from my experience whole zucchini doesn’t freeze well due to its high water content.
Freezing causes the development of ice crystals which change the texture of the zucchini, and not in a good way. They can become overly soft, mushy and watery.
There’s no need to reheat before serving as they are great cold as well. If you’d still like to warm them up, place the zucchini appetizers in the oven or in the air fryer at 350 °F (175 °C) for 6-7 minutes, just until they are warmed through.
Do not use the microwave to warm them up, as this will cause the gratinated cheese crust to lose the crispy texture.
Zucchini Caprese Cups Appetizers
- Preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If using the air fryer, there's no need to preheat. Rinse and dry the veggies.
- Cut off a bit of the zucchini bottom away to make it flat, or the zucchini cup it won't stay up. Holding by the stem side, cut the zucchini in slices about 1 1/4 inch thick (3 centimeters).Using a melon baller or a small measuring (round) spoon, core the zucchini slices by scooping out the flesh from the center of each slice.
- Fill each zucchini cup with about 1 teaspoon of grated or crumbled mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle salt and black pepper to taste, and top each cup with one cherry tomato.
- Transfer the stuffed zucchini appetizers to a baking tray lined with parchment paper, or arrange them in the air fryer basket, leaving some space in between them.Roast at 400 °F (200 °C) for 20 to 25 minutes, until the mozzarella is bubbling out of the cups in a gratinated crust and the tomatoes start bursting.
- To serve, arrange the stuffed zucchini cups on a bed of fresh basil leaves and drizzle them with balsamic vinegar. Finish it with a light sprinkle of fleur de sel to bring out the flavor!
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