By Bonnie Fishman
For those of you who plant a garden each spring, you are faced with the dilemma: What should I plant this season? Tomatoes are a MUST, because there is nothing like homegrown. Yes, I know you’ll be giving them away by the truckload, but they are a necessity. Where you go from tomatoes is up to you. Back in Michigan, my husband, Bob, always planted (on my request) poblano and jalapeño peppers. We would have Japanese eggplant, string beans, and lots of basil and other herbs.
When thinking about your garden in the spring, you forget that you were inundated with zucchini. So you go and plant them again. Just like having a baby: you forget how much it hurt to birth that baby but you go and do it again. Zucchini is the same way. Inundated may be an understatement. I often wonder myself why would anyone plant these guys? In truth, unlike a garden-fresh tomato, I frankly don’t see the difference between a homegrown and a store-bought zucchini. Plus you have the added aggravation of unloading these suckers.
This year, while we were back in Michigan packing up our house to move permanently out to California, our generous contractor, Vince, built us a large irrigated redwood raised garden as a gift. He planted it with corn, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and yes, that zucchini thing. It is a gorgeous plant with huge leaves and lots of large vibrant yellow flowers. Nice, huh? Each of those flowers produces a, you guessed it, zucchini. Lots of zucchini.. Herein lies the problem: the leaves are so large that you can’t see what’s growing underneath lurking on the garden bed. Literally.
Last week, my sweet five- and seven-year-old grandsons were visiting. One morning, on the edge of the garden box, we happened on a ginormous (their word) zucchini weighing in at 4 pounds, 14 ounces. We were amazed. Until a few days later, when Bob went scouring the garden and came to the house with an 8 pounder! Now what? I already gave the first one to Vince. I offered him this one but he said he was still working on the 4 pounder. Who wants this? Should I leave it by the side of the road or is that cruel?
Over dinner last night with my sisters and niece, we discussed the possibilities.
There’s the usual zucchini bread, ratatouille, grilled zucchini, sautéed in pasta sauces, eggs, vegetable medley and so on. We were looking outside the box. Bob chimes in “Let’s get the mandolin out and slice it thin to make lasagna. I liked that idea. How about slicing it thin crosswise and making rollatinis with stuffed cabbage filling? I’ve seen recipes where you “spiralize” them and treat them like pasta noodles. Can you freeze zucchini? Probably too watery when defrosted.
I have a recipe for a zucchini dish that I got from Vince. I, of course, put my own spin on it. He uses a larger zucchini (not the ginormous one) as a cradle to bake meatloaf in. How clever. I took the ball and ran with it. I created a Greek-style meat stuffing using my fresh tomatoes, mint, peppers, and oregano. Add some feta cheese–terrific! Feel free to use ground beef, chicken, or turkey to substitute for the lamb. You can also change the flavor profile by swapping out the mint for cilantro and adding chili powder. Change the cheese to sharp cheddar and you have a dish with Mexican flare.
Calling all zucchini gardeners: What do YOU do with your excess crop? Please share your experience (but not your zucchini) with The Insider!
Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Yield: 4-6 servings
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/4 c. finely diced onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, finely diced
2 lg. or 3 med. ripe tomatoes, peeled, and chopped fine
1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
1 tsp. crushed coriander seeds
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 lb. ground lamb (or beef, turkey, chicken)
1 tsp. salt or to taste
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 lg. eggs, beaten
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 c. fresh chopped mint
1/4 c. fresh chopped oregano
2-3 lb. lg. zucchini
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. panko crumbs
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the seasonings. Cook for 2 minutes more. Add the ground meat. Sauté, breaking up the meat into small pieces. When there is no more pink, add the chopped tomatoes. Turn heat down to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring often. Pour contents into a bowl. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, stir in remaining ingredients.
While the filling is cooking, prepare the zucchini boats. Depending on the size of the zucchini, cut them crosswise into 4-6” sections. The goal is to be able to stuff with one generous cup of filling. Cut each zucchini section in half lengthwise. Shave off a bit from the green side so when the boat is sitting on your plate, it won’t wobble. Using a sharp paring knife, make a V-cut lengthwise down the center of the boat. Remove the seeds. Hollow out some of the zucchini flesh so that you have a 1/2” bottom and walls. How many boats you will need depends on the zucchini size and making sure you have enough filling for each.
Pour the olive oil in a shallow casserole. Place the boats in cut side up. Brush the insides with oil and ensure the bottoms are oiled. Season with coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper. Grill boats over medium-high heat for 5 minutes a side, or until the zucchini has grill marks and is barely tender.
Place the boats back in the casserole, cut side up. Stuff the zucchini. Sprinkle with panko crumbs. Cover with foil. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 minutes more. If you make and assemble these ahead, keep refrigerated. Take out to room temperature for at least an hour before baking.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.