It is no secret that my adventures this summer have been primarily focused on my very first garden, which has done surprisingly well. Until about two weeks ago, the star of the garden was unquestionably the zucchini – I would even say that the plants reached super diva status in August, practically taking over every square inch of our tiny plot – although the tomato explosion late last month was equally impressive. Luckily, these two go together perfectly so I wholeheartedly encourage the battle.
I’ve been showing lots of action from the garden over the last couple of months, but as promised at the end of August, I think it is about time that I share how I’ve been bringing the goods from my backyard into my kitchen, finally achieving my 2013 goal to start eating local.
So here it is: Stuffed Zucchini, my newest favourite dinner, made ad hoc one night when we had too much zucchini in our lives and were feeling up to trying something different. This recipe is inspired by a fantastic stuffed bell pepper dinner that my older sister makes, and really could be thrown together with any veggie that is large enough to serve as a vessel for the delightful meat-rice mixture that is the star of the dish.
1 cup uncooked rice (plus all the goods to make it – water, salt, butter)
1 small white or yellow onion
1 pound (450 grams) lean ground beef
1 large zucchini (around 2 pounds)
Parsley and oregano to taste (or your favourite herbs and seasoning – I used a very small handful of each)
Salt and pepper
Grated cheese (optional, but really, everything is better with cheese!)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Cook the rice according to the directions on the package. If you’re using a classic white basmati rice, then this should take about 20 to 25 minutes, which gives you just enough time to prepare everything else.
- Set a large frying pan over medium heat and pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Chop the onion into a large dice while the oil heats and then toss it into the frying pan.
- Add a small pinch of salt and stir occasionally, cooking the onion for 5 to 10 minutes, until everything turns translucent.
- Add the ground beef to the pan and stir to mix with the onions while breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon.
- Add another pinch of salt and stir occasionally, cooking for 10 minutes or until the meat is browned.
- Wash and finely chop the herbs while the meat cooks.
- Prepare the zucchini while the meat cooks: Wash the zucchini and cut off the top and bottom before slicing it lengthwise down the middle so you have two even halves. Then use a spoon to scoop out the seeds so you have two lovely vessels ready for meat-rice goodness.
- Turn off the heat when the meat is browned. By now, the rice should be cooked and ready to go.
- Add the rice to the frying pan and stir to mix everything together.
- Add the herbs to the pan and season generously with salt and freshly cracked pepper, stirring to combine. (Make sure you try the mixture at this point to be sure that it is to your taste…and then try not to eat dinner straight out of the pan!)
- Line a baking dish with aluminium foil and add a few drops of olive oil to coat the bottom of the dish so the zucchini does not stick when it cooks.
- Place the zucchini in the baking dish and then spoon the meat-rice mixture into each half, filling generously to the point that the delicious mixture is almost overflowing.*
*Note: Even though I fill my zucchini halves so there is a mound of meat-rice mixture in each, I always end up with leftover filling that just does not fit. (Check out the below shot to get an idea of how much I had left!) Not to worry – this overage need not go to waste, it tastes great reheated in the microwave for a high protein snack after work, and can even be re-used for another ad hoc dinner the next night.
- Top each half with grated cheese. We like a sharp white cheddar, but Parmesan would probably be great too! Of course this is optional if you prefer to let the meat-rice shine – the first time I made this dish I tried half of mine without cheese and it was also delicious.
- Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes. The cook time might vary depending on your oven, so it is important to do this very scientific test to ensure everything is cooked: Take the dish out of the oven and stick a fork into the zucchini. If the fork slides in and out really easily, then it is ready. If the zucchini still feels firm when you stick the fork in, then it might need a few more minutes to let it cook a bit more.
- Let the dish cool for a couple minutes, and serve with a light salad. (We love this dish with a simple tomato basil salad, pictured below!)
This meal could not be easier to make and it is very versatile. Want more flavour in the meat-rice mix? Throw some minced garlic in with the onions to add another layer of tastiness. Don’t like oregano? Try some thyme or another earthy herb instead. Go classic and stuff the meat-rice mixture into bell peppers instead of zucchini. Mix a can of tomatoes in with the meat-rice and enhance with cumin and hot pepper flakes for a Mexican style dinner. Try ground turkey or chicken for a lighter alternative. So many possibilities! This is definitely a staple meal for us now and will be all through the winter, long after the zucchini plants in my garden have died in the cold. Enjoy!