Friday, September 10, 2010

Stuffed Zucchinis

In the late summer and early fall as the last of the season's heat delivers a final wallop, beefy little round zucchinis show up in stalls at farmers markets. The dark green globes are perfect for stuffing. I’ve noticed a fancy recipe for stuffed zucchini in Alain Ducasse’s Flavors of France cookbook, but I decided to do something simpler and use the stuffed bell peppers my mother made every Tuesday as a source of inspiration. Sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and Romano cheese combine together for a super satisfying dish. And I must say these little guys looked just as good as Chef Ducasse's version!
Stuffed Zucchinis
Serves 2 for dinner or 4 as a first course
4 round zucchinis
¼ lb. ground beef
¼ lb. Italian sausage, peeled and crumbled
½ cup Romano cheese, grated finely
2 cloves garlic minced
1 onion, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
¼ cup sun-dried tomato (reconstituted, save the water), diced
1 tbls. tomato paste, diluted with 2 tbls. water
2 tbls. parsley, minced
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tbl. butter
1 tbl. olive oil
Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut a thin slice off the tops of the round zucchini and discard the top. Using a small spoon, scrape out the flesh, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick wall. Season the interior of the zucchinis with salt and pepper and place them on a baking sheet lined with non-stick aluminum foil and cook for 20 minutes. Let cool.

Coarsely chop the zucchini flesh and squeeze dry. Dice the pulp with the onion, tomato and garlic. Heat the butter and oil together in a medium sauté pan and sauté the vegetables until they are lightly browned. Remove the vegetables to a bowl. Add the ground beef and crumbled sausage to the pan and sauté until thoroughly cooked. Drain any excess fat. Return the vegetables to the pan and add the sun-dried tomatoes, diluted tomato paste, parsley and ¼ cup of the Romano cheese until well combined.

Stuff the zucchinis with the mixture, mounding them above the tops. Combine the rest of the Romano cheese and breadcrumbs and pack on top of the zucchinis. Place them in a decorative ceramic casserole dish and fill the bottom with the reserved sun-dried tomato water. Drizzle the zucchinis with a bit of olive oil. Cook at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Check the zucchinis 15 minutes into the cooking time to make sure the bread topping isn’t getting burned. Cover with aluminum foil if the tops are turning too dark. If the zucchini are large, they’ll require more time to cook, up to an hour depending on how big they are. Use a toothpick and pierce them every 15 minutes to see if they’re soft enough to eat.

Tips and Tidbits
I served this with some garlic toast and a crisp, green salad. It also makes an elegant and impressive first course for a dinner party.

This dish and can easily be adapted to a vegetarian version. Omit the meat and add the equivalent amount of zucchini and/or eggplant.

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