As the calendar ticks forward into Autumn 🍁, food magazines and newspaper recipes would tell you it’s time to start making stews and belly-warming dishes to ward off the coming Winter Blues. There’s just one problem: nobody told the zucchini plants they should stop growing. Markets and farm stands are still filled with these glorious vegetables and there is no shortage of things to make with them. Click here for our past zucchini recipes.
Hands down, my favorite zucchini dish is stuffed zucchini. Italians 🇮🇹 seem to stuff everything in the summertime 🌞, I guess to make a single dish that contains both meat and vegetables. Stuffed vegetables are also great served warm or at room temperature, so easy to make ahead. I remember my Mom making all manner of stuffed vegetables in the summer including zucchini, eggplant and peppers. She brought them to picnics where she told very inappropriate jokes but had the entire group in stitches 🤣!!
My inspiration for posting this recipe was the recent week-long trip to Lopez Island, Washington (northwest of Seattle), that my husband Mark and I made to visit Mark’s family. They have a wonderful summer home right on the water, quiet and peaceful, where it’s easy to relax and spend time simply gazing out across the water to the distant mountains, listening to the lapping waves, stargazing during crystal clear nights and watching the occasional otter or seal and the plentiful birds (even a pair of eagles 🦅 nesting at the top of a tall fir tree).
Lopez Island (a.k.a. “Food Island”) rocks! and has an abundance of farms and artisan food crafts producing a bounty of ingredients for cooking. Chicken, pork, beef and even rabbit 🐇 all raised on the island, local bread 🥖 baked in a wood-fired 🔥 oven and made from the island’s wheat 🌾, along with all manner of vegetables and fruits—both from my sister-in-law Pat’s garden (one that any Southern Californian would envy) and a nearby farm stand—are abundant. A friend of theirs, Jim, has a large orchard of hazelnuts and fruit, including delicious peaches, apples, pears, as well as a large blueberry patch. And another friend, Ciro, cures his own salumi, makes wine and a digestivo from apples. This is all on top of the sweetest Dungeness crab 🦀 you’ve ever tasted caught daily by my brother-in-law Jim in the waters right off their place. All this abundance made cooking every day for the family a pleasure that I readily volunteered for, using the fresh-picked produce and locally raised meats 🐖. Everything just grows like crazy on that island, I suppose because of the salt air, plentiful sun (the island is in the rain shadow of the Olympic mountains, so has less than two-thirds the rain in Seattle), and cool nights.
The island’s wide choice of locally raised meats and vegetables made stuffed vegetables a natural choice for a meal or three. This recipe is for stuffed zucchini but same basic stuffing can be used for eggplant and bell peppers, except that with eggplant and zucchini, you can chop up the scooped-out contents, fry, and add to the stuffing. And skip the use of mozzarella commonly found on these dishes. That’s a very Italian-American abbondanza thing and you can’t even taste the zucchini or sausage with that much cheese!
Choose straight short zucchini so they lay flat when cut in half
- 2 small yellow or green zucchini – choose straight zucchini about 6-in long
- ½ white or yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 good quality Italian sausages, sweet or hot (your choice as most of the spices for this dish will come from the sausage meat)
- 1 cup good quality tomato sauce, diced tomatoes or whole stewed tomatoes crushed with your hands
- 1 cup cooked rice (I like long grain rice with this recipe)
- Parmesan cheese for topping
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
Prepare the filling:
- Chop the onion into a medium-dice and finely chop the garlic. Set aside. Slice each zucchini lengthwise. Using a teaspoon or melon baller, carefully hull out the inside flesh from each half taking care to not pierce the outer skin. Place the contents on a cutting board and rough chop. Set aside. Place each cleaned zucchini half into a baking dish large enough to hold all the zucchini halves.
- In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the onion becomes translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the chopped zucchini flesh and continue to sauté until soft (another 5 minutes).
- Remove the sausage meat from the casing by slitting it open with a knife. Crumble the meat into the pan. Stir into the onion/garlic/zucchini mixture and continue to break it up with a wooden spoon. Cook until no pink remains in the sausage.
- Add the tomatoes and stir into the mixture breaking up the tomatoes if needed. Cook until the mixture begins to thicken (you don’t want it too soupy).
- Turn off the heat and stir in the cooked rice until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool.
Finish the zucchini:
- Preheat oven to 350℉.
- Holding each prepared zucchini half over the cooled mixture, fill the zucchini using your hands or a spoon. Don’t pack it on but create a nice mound of the stuffing in each zucchini. Return the now filled zucchini to the baking dish. Use any remaining filling in eggs for breakfast.
- Generously sprinkle each zucchini with grated Parmesan cheese. Add 2 tbsp of water to the baking dish to create steam while it cooks.
- Cover the baking dish with foil (if the foil will touch the tops of the filled zucchini, lightly coat the underside of the foil with oil or cooking spray).
- Bake the prepared dish for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes to crisp up the tops.
- Carefully remove each zucchini to a serving plate and drizzle and accumulated cooking liquid over each zucchini. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Equipment needed: Melon baller (optional), oven-proof baking dish.