Transforming the humble zucchini

Food columnist Cathi Litzenberger says the versatile zucchini can take a variety of cooking methods, with great results

There’s more to zucchini than breads and muffins: try topping with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese

There’s more to zucchini than breads and muffins: try topping with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese

For all you home gardeners out there who decided to grow zucchini this year and are now over run with the things, I have a couple of suggestions. After dark, sneak around your neighbourhood and leave them on your neighbours’ doorsteps, like a silent giver. If they’re anything like me, they will be greatly appreciated.

My second idea is to make this week’s recipes all about the lowly zucchini. The zucchini is probably one of the most prolific and versatile summer squashes grown in our area. It can be stuffed and baked, stir-fried into countless recipes, sliced and baked into pizzas, casseroles and any dish imaginable.  Zucchini can be made into crispy fries, cakes, breads, cookies, cobblers, crisps and so much more. It is also low in calories and fat. Take advantage of zucchini’s vibrant green colour, and work it into bite-size appetizers like today’s recipe for crunchy rounds, topped off with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese; they’ll look amazing, and each mouthful of this savoury starter promises a ton of flavour for very few calories (86 for three zucchini rounds). The tomato zucchini bake is a super-quick-and-easy side or main dish that puts leftover summer veggies to great use. If you’d like something more substantial, try the stuffed zucchini cups, and for all seafood lovers I offer delicious crab zucchini boats to enjoy.

Crunchy Zucchini Rounds With Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Goat Cheese

2 zucchini

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil (about 24)

3 ounces goat cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Slice zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. (You should have about 24 slices.) Lay out on large platter; season with salt and pepper.

Place a sun-dried tomato on each slice, then top each tomato with a pinch of goat cheese. Sprinkle tops with chopped chives, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil; serve.

Tomato-Zucchini Bake

Cooking spray

1 pound sliced zucchini

1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

1- 1/4 lbs. sliced vine-ripened tomatoes

1/2 cup panko crumbs

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 2-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray, and alternately layer sliced zucchini, corn kernels, and sliced tomatoes.

Combine panko and Parmesan, and sprinkle on top. Bake, uncovered, in the centre of oven 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cover with foil, and bake for 10 minutes more or until vegetables are tender. Serve immediately.

Meat, Tomato and Mozzarella-Stuffed Zucchini Cups

2 large zucchini or yellow squash, about 12 inches long

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

12 oz. ground turkey (use any combination of ground meat you’d like, but use low-fat ground meat and cheese for the South Beach Diet)

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop onion and green pepper. Heat 2 tsp. olive oil in a non-stick pan, then sauté onion and pepper for 3-4 minutes, until just starting to soften. Add minced garlic and sauté 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.

Amazing Crab-stuffed zucchini

4 zucchini, ends trimmed

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 pound crab meat

1 teaspoon ground paprika

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs

1/4 cup mayonnaise, or as needed

1/4 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Slice the zucchini in half the long way, and scoop out the seeds and flesh, leaving a 1/2-inch thick shell all around. Discard flesh, or save for another use.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and immerse the zucchini boats in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove from the water, drain, and place into a 9×12-inch baking dish. With a paper towel, blot away any excess water from the inside of the zucchini.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat; cook and stir the onion, garlic, and green pepper until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Gently stir in the crab meat, and cook about 5 more minutes, until the crabmeat is hot. Keep the crabmeat in lump pieces as much as possible. Season the crab mixture with paprika, salt, and black pepper.

Place the crab mixture into a mixing bowl, and lightly stir in bread crumbs, mayonnaise, and white wine. Add a bit more mayonnaise to help the mixture hold together, if needed.

Spoon the filling into the prepared zucchini shells, and brush each zucchini with about 3/4 tablespoon of melted butter. Top each stuffed zucchini with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese melts and the filling is hot, about 15 minutes. Enjoy with tossed salad.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.