Penelope lived in Tuscany among the olive groves and farms for years, learning from local people about their culture, land, and food.
It's the garden-fresh ingredients of this stuffed zucchini/courgettes recipe, flavored with a touch of anchovy from the sea and a dash of white wine, which makes it taste like Mediterranean cooking.
Add to this a touch of culinary expertise, and these simple foods are transformed into an easy, summery European meal or party-plate for any season (even on a buffet table at Christmas)—in any part of the world.
My article offers tips on how to prepare all the ingredients for this Mediterranean recipe the Italian way—so you'll feel the sun when you see it and when you taste it. (There is a quick recipe for how to make a pasta sauce with the pulp at the end of this article.)
If you aren't an anchovy sort of person, then you can happily change the anchovy ingredient to tuna fish. You could use freshly chopped parsley instead of fennel or dill if you prefer. It's a truly simple Mediterranean dish, and improvising is the name of the game. (It makes a great meatless meal!)
If you don't have wine in the house, then use water instead. In fact, if you use the tuna fish/parsley combination, water may even be better, because the stuffing flavors are milder too.
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
1 hour 15 min
Serves three main course meals or six appetizers
- 6 zucchini, medium sized, straight, darker green
- 3–4 slices white bread, soaked in water, squeeze dried
- 1 large tablespoon extra virgin oilive oil
- 1 tablespoon dill flowers/ seeds or fennel flower/seeds, chopped fine
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, black or white
- 1 small can anchovies, in olive oil
- 2 tablespoon olive oil, extra virgin
- 1–2 cloves garlic, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
- 1/2 tube tomato puree/paste, generous 1/2 tube
- pinch salt, small
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper, black or white
- 1/2 cup white wine, dry
- Scoop out zucchini with a zucchini corer or an apple corer.
- Mash the anchovies in a small dish.
- Mix the bread mixture together with the extra virgin olive oil, chopped dill, pepper and the anchovies.
- Fill the zucchini with this stuffing.
- Put the oven on at 375° F.
- Brown garlic in the extra virgin olive oil.
- Add tomato puree, pinch salt (or not), pepper and white wine.
- Cook for 10–15 minutes.
- Pour sauce over the bottom of a baking dish.
- Place the zucchini in this sauce and bake, covered, in the oven.
- Turn the zucchini over half way through baking time
- They are ready when tender to the touch—(you may remove the cover about ten minutes before time, if you like).
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Tips for Using Garlic
Sometimes there is a shoot growing inside the cloves of garlic. This means the garlic isn't too fresh. That's fine, as long as you remove the little shoot. It's harder to digest, people say it causes bad breath and in Italy they say it gives you heartburn.
Cut the garlic open in two and simply take it out with a small paring knife.
Tips for Buying and Storing Zucchini
The zucchinis (also known as courgettes in many countries) have to be very fresh because if not, they will be bendy and difficult to core. When purchasing them at an open market, ask how fresh they are, or, if you buy them at a supermarket, look at the packing date on the label. Avoid buying them if picked more than two or maximum three days prior.
The zucchini can't be too small or too big. Remember the size of your baking dish.
They have to be very straight—because coring a bent one will be impossible!
If you aren't going to cook with the zucchini the same day, take them out of their plastic packaging. The plastic will make them sweat, and the hardness will go.
If you won't be using them the same day, then you could keep them out of the refrigerator and out of their packaging for a day or two in a cool place. This way, they retain their natural freshness and firmness.
Before making this recipe, top and tail the zucchini and try them out for size in your baking dish to make sure that they will fit.
Dill Flowers or Seeds
Not everyone has a field of wild fennel growing outside their house as we do here in Tuscany, (we even have olive trees to produce the extra virgin olive oil used here), so if you don't, then fennel seeds or dill are just as good for this recipe. If you don't happen to have it in your cooking cupboards, then use freshly chopped parsley!
But if you happen to be out walking in late Summer, in September, you might see wild fennel growing in the hedgerows. It's a common plant. The yellow flowers are delicious, so you can pick them and scrape them off their stems and keep them in a jar with some salt for the winter.
I used both the flowers and some seeds because there is more density of flavor in the seeds.
Tips for Serving
Stuffed zucchini look best served from their own baking dish. A handsome looking Mediterranean meal looks at home in a rustic terra cotta dish—or white porcelain. A Pyrex dish is nice too and would improve 'ethnically' if you placed it on the serving table on a straw or a cork mat or a Spanish looking, Indian, or French placemat, something that says "I'm from Europe!"
Even if you don't yet have a super serving dish, it's still best not to move the stuffed zucchini from their baking dish because the tomato sauce has condensed beneath them—you would lose a lot of it transferring onto another dish.
If you like this recipe, please rate it! Thanks.
Pasta Sauce With Zucchini Pulp
The zucchini pulp that you cored-out makes a simple pasta sauce. Nothing goes to waste. You can throw it together in the time it takes the pasta water to come to boil.
- Put a large pan of water on to boil (for the pasta).
- Pour a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a saucepan.
- Brown a clove of garlic (cored and cut into four).
- Add the zucchini pulp and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover.
- Cook for about 10–15 minutes, till the zucchini has all softened.
- Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes, mix it in and cook for another five minutes.
- Put your pasta on to boil—a short type of pasta such as penne would be ideally suited.
- Drain it (aldente) and mix with the sauce.
- Sprinkle some Parmesan over it.
© 2012 Penelope Hart