Zucchini: Threat or menace?
I knew I shouldn’t have bought zucchini at the market last weekend. Because once the zucchini harvest begins, buying it seems redundant. Zucchini grows like a weed around here; people whose tomato crops fail, whose lettuce and peas get decimated by slugs, who proclaim themselves to be possessed of Black Thumbs – everyone grows zucchini. While its season lasts, I hardly dare leave the house for risk of coming home to find I’ve been the victim of a drive-by zucchini drop-off.
Sure enough, my friend Sandy, whose garden never fails to produce an overabundance of everything, stopped by the office this afternoon to bring me some zucchini.
To her credit, she called ahead. More to her credit, she’s growing my favorite cultivar: globe zucchini, aka “Eight-ball” or “Cannonball” zucchini.
Spherical, rather than elongated, globe zucchini have much to recommend them. The flesh tends to be a little more firm and a little less watery when cooked – and while they can be cut up and used like any other summer squash, they also lend themselves beautifully to stuffing. Just slice a bit off the stem and blossom ends to stabilize them, slice them in half, scoop out the seedy part and then fill with whatever pre-cooked filling you like. Pop it in the oven for half an hour and you have a tasty, light supper in an edible bowl. Yum.
Unfortunately, globe zucchini are hard to find in the markets, and almost never seen in supermarkets. If you happen onto some, give them a try. Or grow your own – just don’t plant too many. I’ve found that a single plant, well fertilized and watered, can produce enough zucchini that I, too, have resorted to drive-bys.
Stuffed globe zucchini, Italian style
- 2 small-to-medium-sized globe zucchini*. Choose squash with tender skins.
- Bulk Italian sausage*, cooked and crumbled, about 1/2 cup
- Olive oil
- 1 tsp minced fresh oregano*
- 1 tbsp. minced fresh basil*
- A thick slice of sweet onion, minced*
- 2 cloves garlic, minced*
- 1-2 Tbsp bread crumbs (I toasted a slice of multi-grain bread and tore it losely into crumbs)
- A half dozen good-sized shiitake mushrooms*, chopped
- Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
* Indicates local ingredients, either from the farmers’ market, from my garden or from a friend’s
Preheat oven to 350F. Wash the zucchini. Remove a thin slice from the blossom and stem ends so the squash will sit flat in the baking dish. Cut in half and use a spoon to scoopy out the seedy middle, being careful not to break through the bottom. Place the zucchini halves in a baking dish and rub cut edges with olive oil.
In a small skillet, cook the sausage; remove it from the pan, drain off all but a small amount of fat and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Throw in the onions, garlic, mushrooms and herbs, and cook until soft.
Remove from heat. Stir in the bread crumbs. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary (it shouldn’t be).
Spoon filling into the halved zucchini, mounding slightly. If there’s some left, add it to the baking dish. Sprinkle parmesan on top.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the zucchini is fork-tender and the cheese is browned. Serve hot.
You could easily make this a vegetarian dish by omitting the sausage and increasing the mushrooms, or using one of those vegetarian sausage substitutes, if you like that sort of thing.
For that matter, you can substitute almost any filling you like, as long as it’s pre-cooked (the perfect cooking time for the squash is too short for most fillings) and not too wet (because you don’t want the whole thing to collapse into a sodden lump). Thanksgiving-style stuffings are great, as are the sorts of rice-based stuffings normally used to fill cabbages or grape-leaves.
Please note: As much as I love this dish, I don’t need any more zucchini. Really.