Most gardeners have experienced a year where the crops are so verdant and abundant, you must scramble to preserve them. Witness the piles of zucchini on neighbor’s stoops, and the almost desperate pleas to take certain produce off your hands. Every year is different, and you never know which plants from the garden will be the ones that will produce excessively, but you have to be ready with a phalanx of recipes to use them up.
A Plethora of Veggies
One year we planted almost every basic veggie you could wish for and got an incredible return. The summer was unusually long, and the growing season lasted until October. Everything we put in had amazing yields, but the 3 plants that did the best resulted in a pile up of food such that the canning process and dehydrator couldn’t process all of it. Those 3 plants were zucchini, basil and tomatoes. We were processing as fast as we could but fresh produce was still piling up. As a chef, I knew it was up to me to come up with some yummy dishes immediately, but also something I could freeze or it was going to go to waste in the compost heap. Enter the zucchini boat garden recipe.
I had done some similar stuffed zucchini during the course of my work. The little baby zucchini yielded finger food appetizers, and larger ones became vegetarian entrees. Since I already had 3 ingredients with which to work, I put on my thinking cap. We love Italian food and the 3 ingredients made for the perfect base for that cuisine.
Step one was harvesting and washing all the food. We also had onions and garlic so some of that would be part of the recipe. Outside of the garden ingredients, I also added some lovely Pecorino Romano and some basic breadcrumbs. Either make your own or purchase crumbs or Panko.
- Scoop out the inside of the zucchini to make boats and reserve.
- Place the zucchini on oiled foil and salt and pepper lightly.
- Chop up the innards and add some finely minced onion and garlic. Sautee all 3 in olive oil until the Alliums begin to become translucent and fragrant. Remove to a bowl.
- Chop tomatoes up finely and cook them with salt and pepper in olive oil until they begin to release juices. Transfer to the bowl.
- Toss the ingredients together and add breadcrumbs until the mix begins to adhere a bit.
- Lastly, add chopped basil and finish with a generous amount of cheese.
- Fill the zucchini boats and top with more cheese if desired.
- Either bake for 20 minutes at a medium oven, or make foil packets and cook on a medium hot grill for about 10 minutes.
The wonderful thing about the stuffing is that you can freeze it. Stuff chicken or pork, fill peppers, or use on other squash. Add fresh basil if you have it, or a dollop of prepared, frozen or canned pesto.
Pivot to New Flavor Profile
The next year, my basil didn’t do very well, but the cilantro and habaneros did. Since the Italian zucchini was such a success, I altered the recipe to accommodate the new ingredients: same method, only think Mexican.
Use cilantro in place of basil and sauté some habaneros to add kick to the filling. Instead of Pecorino Romano, I replaced it with some pepper jack, or you could use cheddar. You could even add some corn to the mix, or whatever bumper crop you have on hand. Using cornmeal instead of breadcrumbs gives authenticity to this take on a Latin inspired dish.
I’m sure the basic recipe can be altered many ways, with substitutions on vegetables and seasoning. It is a delicious, healthy, and easy summer time favorite that can be frozen to use in winter when your garden has been put to bed.