Today would be a good day to be deemed “sneak the zucchini to your neighbour’s front door day” because as anyone who’s grown zucchini knows, by mid-August it’s producing faster than any one family can keep up with eating it.
All squash are native to the Americas but zucchini was developed in Italy somewhere near Milan over a century ago and is used world-wide in thousands of different ways.
The flowers are edible and are used in soups, salads, and many casserole dishes, particularly in Europe. The fruit is eaten raw, broiled, baked, boiled, stir fried, stuffed with fillings, in casseroles, salads, bread, cakes, cookies, etc.
And yes, I did say fruit. Zucchini is the fruit of the flower but we treat and eat it as a vegetable. Six-to-eight-inch zucchini is favoured by most people but it can grow as long as a metre and 10-to-12-inches wide, which is very seedy and tough.
Today I have a recipe for stuffed zucchini cups made using slices of larger slices of zucchini. It’s a wonderful thing to make when the zucchini gets out of control. The second recipe is a salad you can adjust to your own taste by increasing or decreasing the amount of lemon used and varying the herbs. This time I used dill and chives for the herbs, but a favourite is with the alternate. Enjoy!
Meat, Tomato, and Mozzarella Stuffed Zucchini Cups
2 large zucchini or yellow squash, about 12 inches long (3-inches across)
2 tsp. + 2 tsp. olive oil (may need more, depending on your pan)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 green pepper, finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely minced fresh garlic
1 lb. ground beef (10% fat or less)
12 oz. ground turkey (10% fat or less)
(or use any combination of ground meat you’d like)
1-2 tsp. Spike seasoning (optional but recommended)
2 cups flavourful tomato-basil pasta sauce
2 cups low-fat mozzarella or other mild white cheese (I used low-fat blend of six cheeses called Italian blend.)
Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Chop onion and green pepper. Heat 2 tsp. olive oil in a non-stick pan, then saute onion and pepper for 3-4 minutes, until just starting to soften. Add minced garlic and saute about 1 minute more, being careful not to brown the garlic. Remove the onion, pepper, and garlic mixture to a bowl. Add 2 tsp. more olive oil to the pan. Crumble in the ground beef and ground turkey, season with Spike seasoning, and cook over medium heat until the meat is well browned. Tilt pan to see if there is any extra fat, and remove with a spoon if there is, then stir cooked vegetables and garlic back into the meat. Add tomato sauce and simmer until the mixture has thickened and liquid has cooked off, about 10 minutes, then turn off heat.
While meat cools, cut zucchini into 2 inch thick slices, discarding ends. Use a sharp spoon or melon baller to hollow out a cup in each zucchini slice, leaving just over 1/4 inch of zucchini flesh. Be careful not to get too close to the skin or the cups will leak liquid when they cook.
Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray and stand up zucchini cups, open end up. Stir 1 1/2 cups grated cheese into the cooled meat mixture (it doesn’t need to be completely cool), then spoon the meat-cheese mixture into zucchini cups, pressing down with the spoon and mounding it up a little over the top of the zucchini.
Bake zucchini cups for 20 minutes, then remove from oven and use remaining cheese to top each one with a generous pinch of cheese. Put back in oven and bake 10-15 minutes more, until zucchini is slightly soft when pierced with a fork and cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve hot.
Zucchini Salad with Lemon, Herbs, and Goat Cheese
2 medium or 3 small zucchini, washed and thinly sliced into rounds, leaving skin on, or peeled lengthwise with a potato peeler for thinner slices
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste (I used ground sea salt)
1 lemon (use all the zest and juice, and I would choose a large lemon)
1/4 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tbsp. chopped dill
2 tbsp. thinly sliced chives
(Other herbs such as basil, mint, or parsley can be used. I would use 3-4 tbsp. of herbs, no matter which ones you choose.) Another good combination is: parsley, garlic, almond slices, and capers;
2 tbsp. crumbled goat cheese (could also use feta, ricotta, or Parmesan cheese for a slightly different version)
Wash zucchini and dry with paper towel or dishcloth, then thinly slice into rounds, using a mandoline or sharp chef’s knife. Arrange the zucchini slices on a serving platter (either in a single layer or in several layers) and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. (If you make several layers of zucchini, be sure to season each layer.)
Wash the lemon and dry with paper towels or dish towel, then cut off ends of the lemon and discard. Zest the rest of the lemon skin and put lemon zest in a small dish. Squeeze all the lemon juice into the dish with the zest, discarding seeds. (If you don’t get at least 2 tbsp. lemon juice I’d use two lemons.)
Whisk 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil into the lemon zest/juice mixture, then pour the dressing over the zucchini slices. Let zucchini marinate for 15-30 minutes while you prep other ingredients or make the rest of dinner.
Wash herbs and spin dry or dry with paper towel, then chop herbs. When you’re ready to serve the salad, sprinkle with chopped herbs and goat cheese and serve immediately. (Don’t take the goat cheese out of the fridge until right before you’re ready to serve it or it won’t crumble.)
–– Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s cooking columnist.