After a few weeks out of town, we came back to find three very large zucchini in our garden. Some were 3 inches in diameter, maybe a foot long, with thick flesh that’s not as tender and flavorful as that of the baby squash we’d harvested earlier in the season.
So, what to do with these gargantuan zucchinis? In the past, we’d given up and thrown some of the monster squash in the compost, but that’s a wasteful, clearly undesirable option.
You could make zucchini bread, which allows you to shred the vegetable and thus render it more edible. Or you could slice/dice it and add it to soup so maybe it will absorb some of the more delicious flavors of your stock. Though all these options are always on the table, our most recent use for gargantuan zucchini was to stuff ’em.
Late-summer zucchini has flesh that is both less flavorful and more dense, sometimes dry and woody. So you must add flavor and cook it long enough for the vegetable to soften (though not so long that it becomes mushy).
Gargantuan zucchini is firm, which means it’s a good vehicle for holding whatever you choose to stuff into it. Just cut the zucchini lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and center pulp, cook it at 375 degrees for 45 minutes (just to ensure the dense squash cooks through almost completely), and then stuff it with whatever suits you.
Carolyn went with a mixture of cooked rice and hot Italian sausage from Pete’s, which is spicy but nowhere near Mexican-hot. To the rice and sausage, which had been browned up in a pan, she added some sauce made of our garden tomatoes, onion, garlic, mushrooms, and a small yellow sweet pepper. On top, more sauce and a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano. This was all baked at 400 degrees for about half an hour to warm it through and get the sauce bubbly.
We’re being loose with this recipe because you can stuff a zucchini with just about anything in any proportion that tastes good to you.
With this preparation, the zucchini softens a little and more readily absorbs the flavors of the sausage and sauce. After baking, the top of each zucchini stuffing becomes pleasantly crusty and crisp, a good contrast to the soft squash. The slight bitterness of the older vegetable is balanced by the slight sweetness of the tomato sauce.
Instead of rice, you could use quinoa or potatoes … or just add a well-sauced protein, like beef or chicken. The sauce is probably the most important part because it’s this tasty liquid that’s going to season the squash and render delicious a somewhat tough old vegetable. Also, the tomato sauce/cheese topping makes for a dish that looks so good you will be eager to eat a lot.
We greatly enjoyed this stuffed zucchini, but when I posted a photo of this dish on Facebook, I faced a torrent of anti-zucchini sentiment, including, “Somehow, the zucchini seems superfluous” and “Zucchini, the tilapia of vegetables.”
I don’t get it. Why all the hating on zucchini? You just need to work a little to get the most deliciousness out of it.