On their own, zucchini just aren’t that scrumptious. Put them in a multi-vegetable dish such as ratatouille and you’ve got a winner. But what about when you want the zucchini to be the star of the show? Stuffed zucchini is the ticket in that case.
While they do look elegant, stuffed zucchini are simple to prepare. I use a straightforward 4-step process: scoop the zucchini out, cook the filling, put it in the zucchini shells, and bake.
This version is comfort food. The inspiration was a container of leftover rice and a few vegetables in my refrigerator. Overall, the taste is Italian-inspired. As my husband downed his second helping, he called it “light but substantial.”
Italian-Inspired Stuffed Zucchini
Servings – 2 Cost – $5
- 2 medium zucchini
- one 3 to 4 ounce hamburger patty (3-4 ounces ground beef)
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup finely chopped red or yellow pepper
- ½ cup chopped mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons oil (I used olive) + more for oiling the pan
- ⅓ cup cooked rice
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ⅓ – ½ cup chopped mozzarella or other soft (melting) cheese
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper
- Cutting board
- Garlic press (optional)
- Baking sheet with aluminum foil or oven-safe casserole dish with cover
- Large spoon (for stirring)
- 2 tablespoons
- 3 small bowls
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Colander or strainer
- Cloth or paper towels
- Cut the zucchini in half cross-wise and then in half lengthwise so each one is in 4 pieces. Scoop out the insides with a spoon, first cutting into the quarter with the spoon, then once most of the “meat” is out, smoothing out the shell with the spoon turned over.
- Roughly chop the scooped-out zucchini “meat”, put it in a small bowl and lightly salt it (less than half a teaspoon and set it aside while you chop the other vegetables. (Remember when I pointed out watermelon is 92% water? Well zucchini contains even more; it is 95% water!) In order to make stuffed zucchini taste like anything, you have to make sure the water content doesn’t drown out whatever else you’re adding. Assuming that you’re not just going to throw out the inside of the zucchini and stuff it with something else, all you have to do is salt the scooped-out inside, which sweats out the water. Then you can mix the concentrated, chopped zucchini with other ingredients and return it to the zucchini shell for baking. This dish works best if you chop all the vegetables ahead of time and set them near the stove – mise en place works for more than French food and stir-fries!
- Drain the zucchini “meat” in a colander or strainer, then put it in a clean dish towel or paper towels (double or tripled up for strength) and lightly twist over the sink to remove extra water.
- Heat the pan and once it is hot, cook the ground meat. If you freeze your ground beef in patties (as I do), a convenient way to have pre-measured, last minute burgers for grilling or using in recipes like this one, just defrost it in a microwave for a few minutes on a low setting. Drain out any fat and set aside the cooked ground meat in a bowl.
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan, let it heat for a few moments, then add the chopped onion. Cook under a medium heat for approximately 3 minutes until onion is transparent.
- Add the chopped peppers and garlic and cook another 3 minutes. (I prefer red or yellow because I find green peppers too sharp tasting. Use whichever ones you prefer.)
- Add the mushrooms and cook for 2-4 minutes until the mushrooms are wilted.
- Push the vegetables to one side in the pan and add the second tablespoon of oil. Once it is heated (but not smoking), add the chopped zucchini. Cook it for a minute or two on its own, then mix with the other vegetables for another 2-3 minutes. Add back in the cooked chopped meat and sprinkle with the oregano and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I don’t rinse the salted zucchini, so I add very little salt at this point.
- Add the cooked rice and mix. Take the mixture off the heat and add the chopped mozzarella.
- Spoon the mixture into the zucchini shells using the tablespoons.
- Mix the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs in a bowl and top each stuffed zucchini with about 1 tablespoon of the cheese-and-breadcrumb mixture.
- Lightly oil the baking sheet or casserole dish. Place the stuffed zucchini on the sheet or dish and bake covered 30 minutes, until the shell is soft enough to pierce with a fork. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes until the cheese-and-breadcrumb mixture is browned.
- Serve with salad and good bread for a meal that will leave you smiling.