Monday, September 16, 2013

Simple Stuffed Zucchini

There are so many zucchini recipes — especially as summer draws to a close, and fatigue sets in — that seek to sort of bury the squash. Shred it into a cake, where it's hidden behind chocolate, or perhaps a brown butter cornbread. And there's good reason to do this. Zucchini actually excels in these treatments, where it gives otherwise-starchy dishes a healthy dose of green, and some moisture to boot. Also: So! Much! Zucchini! But even in the midst of the onslaught, it's sometimes nice to have dishes that really let the zucchini shine. Like this stuffed zucchini.

There are versions of stuffed zucchini heaping with cups of breadcrumbs, or layered with gooey cheese, or spicy chorizo, or lord-knows-what. But this one is all about the zucchini. You scoop out the innards, and then cook them down with onion and tomato while the shells soften up a bit in the oven. You can add some basil (or not), and just the merest sprinkling of cheese (or not). Then a sprinkling of just enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture, and the whole thing goes back in the oven. The end result doesn't have big bold flavors, or a magical where's-the-squash transformation. It tastes simple, rich and sweet. And a lot like zucchini.

Simple Stuffed Zucchini
serves 4

4 good-sized zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for the pan and topping
1 onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 good-sized tomatoes, diced
1 handful basil (optional), torn or chopped
scant 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (or as needed)
1 handful grated parmesan, optional
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Rinse the zucchini, and slice off the stems and any woody blossom scars on the ends. With a spoon, scoop out the innards (setting them aside), leaving a small rim around the end to keep things together. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large casserole dish, salt the insides of the zucchini, and lay them, cut side down, in the casserole. Drizzle a little more oil over the tops, and bake while you prepare the remaining ingredients (~half an hour).

Heat a large frypan or Dutch oven over a medium-high heat, and pour in the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and translucent but haven't browned, ~5-7 minutes (adjust the heat as needed). While the onion is cooking, chop the reserved zucchini innards into a rough dice, and set aside. When the onion has softened, add the garlic, and cook for another minute to soften. Then add the zucchini innards and tomatoes, and basil if you've got it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is all cooked through (~10 minutes, give or take). It will give off a lot of liquid. Remove from heat, and add enough breadcrumbs to sop up the liquid into a moist stuffing-like consistency (the exact amount will vary depending upon how much liquid your particular zukes and tomatoes have given off, and how much of that has cooked away). Allow to cool slightly, then add parmesan, and season (rather aggressively) with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the zucchini shells from the oven, and flip them back to boat position (being careful to avoid the steam!). Mound the filling back into the shells, and top with a drizzle of olive oil. Return to the oven and bake until everything is sizzly and delicious and just beginning to brown — about half an hour. Serve warm.


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