Zucchinis are not only versatile and delicious, they also have a magical properties! For instance, I'm convinced that the species has cleverly developed a cloaking device for its fruit, not dissimilar to the stealth technology employed by Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his gallant team on the Starship Enterprise.
I know there are many home cooks with an interest in home grown produce who will be with me on this one. Technically speaking, it makes 100% sense and also explains why when you're watering the vegetable garden in the morning there is no sign of any zucchinis, and yet when you pop back out to water in the afternoon, there's fruit the size of a small submarine!
It's always a pleasant surprise when we find these treasures and brings fresh new challenges into the kitchen. We devoured my zucchini frittata three times last week (with slight variations on each occasion to ensure there were no complaints from the sous chef). I've also been grating zucchini into these souffle omelettes. And my chocolate walnut zucchini cake is also on the agenda for baking next week.
Stuffing these massive marrows with a mince and breadcrumb concoction is not particularly new or innovative, I know, but I wanted to knock Peter's socks off with my own version—which, in a former lifetime, was hugely popular with my growing children and my then hubby.
If I may digress and stand on my soapbox for a moment, I wish to humbly declare: 'my Bolognese sauce is rather good'. After tinkering with it over several decades, I think I've nailed a rich and flavoursome sauce that is fab as an accompaniment to any sort of pasta, but also makes a tasty stuffing for vegetables, such as these.
For the bolognese, it's simply a matter of shaking the fridge and raiding the larder. As with a number of old favourites, I don't usually measure anything, but for the purposes of sharing this dish with you, I quickly threw together a batch sufficient for four, and noted the quantities. Of course, the flavours develop with time and this sauce is always better the following day.
BOLOGNESE SAUCE A LA LIZZY
500g lean beef mince
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 brown onion, chopped
1 clove smoked garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, diced
6 medium sized button mushrooms, chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 tablespoon mixed dried herbs: parsley, oregano, thyme, basil
1/2-1 cup good red wine
140g tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Porcini salt (optional)
sea salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a saute pan or frypan. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery, and cook the mixture over a low-medium heat until the onions are soft and transparent. You can salt the vegetables at this stage, as it will draw out the juices and also sweeten them somewhat. Next, add the mince and brown it well, breaking down any lumps with your wooden spoon. Turn up the heat if you need to do so to prevent the mince from stewing. Toss in the mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, herbs and red wine, and then stir in the tomato paste. Lower the heat again and simmer gently for up to an hour or longer, noting that you want a rich, flavoursome sauce. If you need to, add 1/4 cup beef stock, to prevent the sauce from catching. Season to taste with black pepper, and porcini salt (if using). Serves 4.
The traditional way of preparing zucchinis for stuffing is to par boil them, but I prefer to bake the prepared halves briefly. You can also microwave them if you are in a hurry. Just brush them with a little water in both cases.
BAKED ZUCCHINI STUFFED WITH KRANSKY, BACON & BOLOGNESE
1 large zucchini, say 30cm long and 18cm round
1/2 quantity of Bolognese sauce (recipe above)
1 thick rasher lean smoky bacon, diced
10cm knob cheese kransky* (or chorizo), diced
3-4 tablespoons shredded cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar etc)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Slice the ends off the zucchini, then cut it in half lengthways and scoop out the fleshy centre with a soup spoon, taking care to leave about 1cm around the edges and also at each end (see my photographs). Note: you can chop some of this pulp and cook it into your prepared bolognese sauce.
Place the two zucchini 'boats' onto a baking tray or sheet lined with parchment. Brush or sprinkle them with water and bake for 10-20 minutes until they are just tender. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.
Next, spoon the cooled bolognese into the two hollowed out zucchini boats. top with the diced bacon, kransky and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the topping is golden brown and crispy. Serves 2.
* The cheese kransky from Aldi supermarkets is very tasty (as a special treat). You could use chorizo if preferred.
The finished dish may not look particularly spectacular, but it tastes really, really good. I might just add that my taste tester and sous chef loved it too.
Tell me dear fellow cooks and gardeners, do you believe that zucchinis and others in the curcubit genus have magical properties? Thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment xox
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.