If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard garden, you know what happens around this time of year. Those lovely yellow flowers on your zucchini plants give way to wee green veggies that morph into monstrous logs practically overnight. If you don’t pick them while they’re still small, zucchini can be bitter and unpleasant to eat. Right now, they’re coming in faster than Michael Jackson memorials, so here’s a great way to prepare them. You can even freeze these and cook them later, when zucchini is not so plentiful. Start out with small to average-size zucchini. The ones I used were probably about six inches long and rather plump. If you’ve got a surplus of zucchini flowers, there are plenty of delicious ways to cook them, including my favorite – stuffed with mozzarella, batter-dipped and fried – which I blogged about here.
In case you didn’t know, there are female and male zucchini flowers, both of which are edible. The male flower (in all these photos) is easily distinguishable since its stem emanates directly from the base of the zucchini plant. It will never become a zucchini. The female flower, on the other hand, attaches itself to the baby zucchini that will later emerge. Trim the stems off and boil the whole zucchini in water for five minutes. Drain and cut in half. Scoop out the insides, except for a small perimeter around the edge. I run a small paring knife around the outside, score the insides, then scoop it out with a grapefruit spoon. Set these pieces aside. Don’t worry, the insides will still be quite hard and uncooked. That’s fine. The outside edge will feel slightly cooked. Now here’s the recipe for the stuffing, and you can change it up however you like, depending on what you’ve got on hand and what flavors you like. I used brown rice because I had some left over, but you could easily substitute white rice or bread crumbs if you prefer, or tomatoes or mushrooms instead of red pepper. This version is vegetarian, but you can add ground meat or sausage if that floats your boat. Baked Stuffed Zucchini 4 average size zucchini 2 T. olive oil 1 shallot, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 cup sweet red pepper, diced the interior of the zucchini you scooped out and minced salt, pepper to taste 1 cup cooked brown rice and cooled 1 egg, slightly beaten 2 or 3 T. minced parsley 1/4 cup parmesan cheese 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese more parmesan cheese for the top
- Saute the following in olive oil until wilted: the shallot, garlic, red pepper and zucchini bits you scooped out and chopped.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat and add the rice, egg, parsley, parmesan and mozzarella.
Stuff the mixture into the zucchini with a spoon and place in a greased oven-proof casserole. Sprinkle with more parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered at a high temperature – 425 degrees – for about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and crusty on top. For another version of stuffed zucchini – shown below – using ricotta cheese as the base and the spherical variety of zucchini, click here. And here are a couple of other zucchini ideas: Zucchini “carpaccio” and an old favorite, ratatouille: