Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baked Stuffed Zucchini

I guess it's been a while since I posted an actual recipe for you guys. Plus, I'm always being asked about vegetarian recipes or healthy dinner options that aren't too hard to put together. Made me think that this baked stuffed zucchini dish would be a good one to share! It's easy and it's healthy, but it's delicious and very filling as well. Even people who aren't vegetarians will like it, because it's so hearty and flavorful.

Yesterday, my mom brought home two very large zucchini that someone had grown in their garden and brought to the office. I really like stuffed vegetables (like peppers or eggplant) and these were just the right size for stuffing as well, so I decided to see what we had around the house and come up with something.

I wound up choosing brown rice for the bulk of the stuffing. However, I also added carrot, onion, tomato sauce, and a few fresh herbs from the garden as well for extra jazz. You can see pretty much all of that except for the brown rice and the seasonings in the picture above. You can also see the approximate size of the zucchinis used.

That said, this is pretty much what went into the stuffing as far as proportions go. I really just sort of feel my way through stuff like this -- especially when I'm just messing around and experimenting. You should feel free to adjust, substitute, or whatever you desire as you see fit.

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice (uncooked)
  • 1 cup carrot (diced)
  • 1/2 medium-sized white onion
  • 1 package vegetarian chorizo sausage
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 cups water (or broth if you have it/prefer)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic-flavored Mrs. Dash (or a few cloves of fresh garlic)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • Several large leaves of fresh basil
  • Several good-sized sprigs of parsley
  • Cheese slices of your choice
While you're prepping your veggies for the filling, you can start by sauteeing your soy chorizo in the bottom of a decent-sized pot. I forget what brand we used, but it's that kind that is already all crumbled up, so you just throw it in there. 

If yours isn't like that or you decide you want to substitute real sausage, ground beef, or something else, just break it down into little pieces and cook through. Then add in your rice, water (or broth). 

Once you have your carrot and onion chopped, add them as well along with your salt, peppers, and garlic seasoning. Bring to a boil and then simmer over low heat while you prepare your zucchini.

Chop off either end of both zucchini and cut into three equal lengths. Then cut each of those lengths lengthwise again so you have twelve half-sections of zucchini. Then use a spoon to hollow out the middles so they look like my visual aid there. Set the middles aside and arrange your zucchini sections on a baking sheet or in a large baking dish.

What you do with the middles of your zucchini is up to you. I just chopped mine up really fine and tossed them into the pot with the rest of the filling. (Why waste it??) If your zucchini turn out to have a lot of seeds or something, you may not want to though. The amount of filling I had sort of... grew on me before I knew it, so you'll have plenty either way. You'll just probably have a bit extra if you add the zucchini middles. 

At this point, you just watch your filling. Simmer it until your rice is just about tender. Then add your fresh herbs, saving just a few aside to use as garnish later. Taste the broth to see if you need or want more salt or pepper a couple of times along the way. If it seems like your rice is going to need more liquid, add some a little at a time. It will probably take around 45 minutes altogether, but it's basically done when it's done. 

When my rice started getting close to being cooked, I popped the zucchini sections into the oven at 375 degrees to pre-bake for maybe 10 minutes. When the filling was actually done, I just took them back out and spooned a generous amount of filling into each one. Once they're filled, they should look a lot like the picture. Once they do, put 'em back in the oven.

If you have extra filling leftover, don't sweat it! Just eat it as a side dish with something else another night or get your snack on by dipping chips in it while you wait (what we did). How long you let these bake is also up to you. We prefer our zucchinis to have a slight al dente texture to them, because none of us like soft squash or well-cooked veggies, so these probably baked for maybe 20-25 additional minutes. if you want yours softer, let them bake longer. Just test the texture of the zucchini with the tip of a knife or a fork once in a while to keep an eye on how they're cooking.

When they're really close  to being ready to come out, you can add your cheese. Seth and I put half a slice of cheddar cheese on each of ours. I put half a slice of vegan provolone on each of my mom's. Then we put them back in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt.

Once plated, add the rest of your fresh herbs to the tops for garnish. We had lots and lots of fresh basil on ours, but you can choose to use parsley instead if you prefer. I imagine fresh oregano would be good as well. Just experiment a little!

These were a real hit with everyone. Seth isn't the biggest vegetable eater or rice lover. He's not a vegetarian or a vegan either. However, he really liked these! He also thought the extra filling was terrific as a dip with chips (those wasabi ones from my last post) and a little melted cheese. Actually, we may make that again on purpose just to use as nacho topping or something for that reason, it was so tasty.

Don't be afraid to experiment with your filling either! Make it spicier if you prefer. More Mexican and less Italian if you want?  I bet these would rule if stuffed with lasagna type fillings like ricotta, Italian sausage, and possibly some bread crumbs topped with mozzarella as well. This is an easy recipe to play around with, because zucchini are pretty much good with everything. Enjoy!