Our two zucchini plants went hog wild while we were away, resulting in three very large squashes. But a backyard gardener has to be ready for such opportunistic vegetables!
I have a few tricks up my sleeves that I will share with you:
If I can't use the zucchini right away but want to use it within a few days, I wipe it with vinegar to kill any bacteria that might want to turn it into mush. Just put some vinegar in a small bowl, dip a cloth in the bowl (don't you wonder about those directions that say "dip a CLEAN cloth in the bowl"? I mean, OF COURSE you will use a clean cloth!), and wipe the zucchini.
If I can't use it within a week, I freeze it. Because zucchini has such a high water content, I remove the seeds (if they have developed) and then I grate it or chop it before freezing. After thawing the grated zucchini it can be squeezed to remove excess water and used in meatloaves and frittatas and hippie-style zucchini bread and Julia's Chilled Zucchini Soup (the latter is reason enough to go to the trouble of grating and freezing--SUCH a good recipe!). I use the roughly chopped zucchini to make Melissa Joulwan's Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup--she likes it for breakfast and so do I!
But if I want to make a summery main dish that will reheat for days on end? That my family not only likes but REQUESTS? Then I'm talking Stuffed Zucchini a la Feral. This is a pretty flexible recipe with plenty of room for improvisation. And although there are several steps they can be spread out over the day easily. Here's how I did it this weekend:
- 1 giant zucchini--mine was 13 inches long and pretty wide
- 3 T olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic or more, chopped
- 1 small zucchini, chopped (score: used up even more zucchini!)
- 28 oz can diced tomatoes (not all of this was used)
- seasonings: Italian herbs, salt and pepper as wanted, crushed red pepper--a lot depends on whether you add the Italian sausage
- 1/2 cup almond flour (I guess you could use bread crumbs)
- 4 - 8 oz provolone, diced
- Optional: 8 oz Italian sausage, crumbled and browned (I make my own by browning ground beef and/or ground pork with homemade Italian Sausage Seasoning that I keep on hand--I use the recipe in Melissa Joulwan's Well Fed 2, but a web search produces lots of suggestions.)
- Optional: grated Parmesan, the real stuff
Heat oven to 350° or thereabouts.
Cut the giant zucchini in half lengthwise. (Do not cut yourself in the process--as Judge Judy says: You can't be a fool.) With a spoon, hollow out the innards until you have a shell about 1/2" thick. Save all the zucchini mess you've created--discard the seeds if they've gotten large, but don't stress about it.
Place the zucchini halves in any large baking dish that will hold them. I trim the zucchini to fit a 9x13" Pyrex dish. (Save and chop any trimmings.)
Add about 1/4 cup water to the pan and cover it with foil. The foil doesn't have to form a tight seal--I've been using the same two pieces of foil for years I swear, overlapping them roughly to cover the pan. You just want the zucchini to steam a bit. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and take foil off. Let cool a bit, then pour off any water. The zucchini should be sort of rubbery at this point, but still able to hold its shape. One time I forgot to cover the pan with foil and the zucchini was pretty crunchy--this was not a success.
Meanwhile! In a very large frying pan (and I mean LARGE!) heat the oil.
Saute the onion, peppers, and garlic with some salt for about 10 minutes.
Roughly chop the zucchini innards and add them along with the extra chopped zucchini to the frying pan. Cook for another 10 minutes or so--you want this vegetable mixture to be nice and soft and sort of caramelized. This isn't the time for al dente vegetables!
Note: This is a comforting dish, not challenging in any way--if you want more texture, saute the onions by themselves for, oh, 5 minutes before adding the peppers and chopped zucchini, then cook for 5 more minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes and their juice. I add about 3/4s of the can at first and then adjust after adding the almond meal (below).
Taste for seasoning and then season as you like. If I'm adding spicy sausage I don't add tons of herbs, but if I'm doing a vegetarian version I add lots of stuff (you can toss the Italian Sausage Seasoning right into the pan!).
Then add the almond meal to thicken things up. I might add more tomatoes, but you want the texture to be firm enough to mound in the zucchini shells.
Let this mixture cool for half an hour or longer before adding the cheese (it will get gooey if you try to add it right away) and the sausage. I usually add the cheese, stuff half the zucchini, and then add the sausage to the remaining mix for the second zucchini shell so that one is vegetarian. At any rate, stuff the zucchini halves, mounding the mixture up. I always have extra stuffing, so I just put it between the zucchini boats.
Top with grated parmesan if you've got it.
This can sit around for a while in the refrigerator, if you made it ahead of time. Or cook it right away if you forgot to get going earlier. Cover with foil (use the same foil you used before--don't be wasteful!) and bake 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 10 more minutes. You want it to be warmed through, but everything was fully cooked earlier so you can relax about the timing.
Makes 6 generous servings and reheats like a charm! You can make this in fits and starts so it's not a marathon kitchen endeavor.
You can mess with this recipe a lot--I expect eggplant would work in here, and corn, too. Well-cooked carrots. Fresh tomatoes. This would be great with Mexican seasonings! Gardeners and savvy shoppers have to deal with what's on hand....
PS I've tried making this as a casserole, skipping the zucchini shell step, but it wasn't successful--the texture of the shell is important.
A big thanks to my students in the color class on Friday! We had a good time and many lovely colorways were born.....