Two summers ago I planted my first garden. It was at my father-in-law’s house in the country, at which I was spending half of every week. The space had been dormant for a few years, so my husband and I decided to revive it. We planted the usual suspects, as we had been instructed by my husband’s dad. It was a great summer for growing that year and yields were high. (I still have jars of canned peppers). Perhaps the most prolific of the garden plants was the zucchini. Before I grew my own veggies, I liked zucchini. Occasionally… in a stir fry or as an accompaniment to grilled salmon, but since that summer the thought of going without homegrown sweet delicious zucchini is horrifying.
The first giant zucchini was really an accident. One day I looked in the garden and saw some lovely little babies sprouting from the plant. I decided to let them get a little bit bigger, and a day or two later… I had raised behemoth squash.
I couldn’t have been more proud of my accomplishment, although I think the cat had some issues with it!
Then came the advice, and inevitably the criticism. Some people said my giant zucchini wouldn’t taste as sweet as it’s normal sized counterparts. They said the skin would be too tough, they said I had gone too far! I wouldn’t listen.
My grandmother told me to make zucchini bread. Still others said soup was the way to go, but I remembered seeing a recipe for mediterranean stuffed squash (using, of course puny, normal sized zucchini) and I recalled the tale of a similar zucchini that had been pulled from that same garden about ten years earlier. It had been stuffed as well, with a curried rice. I thought, “why does my glorious giant zucchini have to be relegated to side dish status? It is a wondrous and beautiful fruit!” So, I started stuffing. I made the first one with seafood – crabmeat and shrimp, then I made a vegetarian stuffed zucchini with golden raisins, couscous and almonds. Then I moved on to the meat. I made an Italian stuffed zucchini with ground veal, bread crumbs, tomatoes (also from the garden), pine nuts and, of course… cheese! It’s that one I’ll share with you now, because it stands out in my memory as one of my greatest squash stuffing achievements.
Let me start by saying this has not been the greatest garden year here in the Northeast, but I’ve already managed this…
… and tonight. One of those bad boys is getting stuffed!
Italian Style Zucchini “Boat”
1 giant zucchini (if you’re the type that’s not into giant squash, you can always make the stuffing and stuff it into many small zucchini)
1-1 1/4 lbs. ground veal (can substitute ground beef, turkey, etc.)
4-5 plum tomatoes, peeled & crushed
2 cups baby portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped into approx. 1/4 inch pieces
3 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
4 Tbsp. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 pinch thyme leaves
1 pinch oregano
2oz. pine nuts
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped (depends on how garlicky you like it)
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup red wine (give or take… or drink)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Approx. 3/4 cup bread crumbs
salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the ends off of the zucchini and slice it lengthwise down the middle. With a large spoon, dig out the seeds from the center of the squash.
This should create a channel suitable for stuffing. Salt and pepper the zucchini, put into a giant roasting pan and set aside.
In a large skillet, brown veal lightly on a medium/high heat. Remove veal from pan and preserve juices from browning. Add about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add garlic and onion and saute for 4-5 minutes or until onions are lightly browned. Add chopped mushrooms and continue to saute for 2 minutes. As you saute, add in your herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, parsley) a little at a time, reserving approximately 1 Tbsp of parsley for later. Add in crushed tomatoes, stir to mix. Cook mixture with tomatoes for about three minutes. Add in red wine and raise heat to cook off some of the liquid. Continue stirring for about 2 minutes. Add in 1/2 cup of grated cheese (save the rest for later) and return the veal to the pan and stir together with veggies. Salt and pepper mixture to taste. Add 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs a little at a time while stirring mixture. You want the bread crumbs to absorb much of the liquid, you may need a little more than 1/2 cup, you may need a little less. When the pan juices are mostly absorbed (nothing pooling in the bottom of the pan) remove pan from heat. Add in the pine nuts and stir to mix.
Spoon the veal mixture into the zucchini (depending on the size of your zucchini, you may have some extra mixture – but I usually just cram it in there.
Sprinkle remaining bread crumbs, then remaining parmesan, then remaining parsley on top of your stuffed zucchini. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover roasting pan with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered for 15 minutes.
You may want to turn the oven up to broil for the last 3 minutes or so to brown the top. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve by slicing crosswise. Serves 6-8, depending on your zucchini size.
So there it is. Does the skin get thicker as the zucchini gets bigger? Yes. But it allows you to trap all the delicious stuffed goodness in there and it softens up pretty well when you bake the squash. And the flesh? Tender, sweet, meaty and delicious. What started out as a happy accident has become a summer tradition in my house. The only drag is all that baking with no A/C, but like they say, if you can’t stand the heat…