I am a stuffer. Vegetables, poultry, fresh pasta, you name it. If I find myself considering a recipe based on an ingredient endowed with a certain stuffing-prone shape you can be almost sure of the outcome. As soon as I saw those round zucchini I knew they'd be the prefect container. I had heard about round zucchini but had never seen them before on sale. These looked quite good: very firm, no spots or scratches and as big as a softball. Would they taste like proper zucchini or of nothing much, as most of the stuff I usually get? In both cases better chose a stuffing with enough taste of its own in case the zucchini turned out too bland. After looking through a few cookbooks the choice swayed between an Italian recipe with meat and a Provencal one with rice stuffing. No meat or normal rice left in the house but I still had some Camargue red rice. French recipe with French rice: sounded like a deal.
In this recipe the round zucchini are hollowed out and boiled shortly. Meanwhile their flesh is chopped out and pan-fried with olive oil, some bacon, onion and torn basil leaves. Whoever matched basil and zucchini first was a genius, they're a perfect pair. Once the flesh is cooked, tender and slightly caramelised, it gets mixed with rice, previously cooked al dente, an egg and parmesan. This stuffing goes back into the zucchini and they're baked. The result was surprisingly good and nourishing. Each zucchini looked quite small but one was enough to have a satisfying dinner. The stuffing was delicious, the nutty rice combining very nicely with the other ingredients. The real surprise here were the zucchini: they had that mild sweet taste that is hard to come by unless you grow and pick some yourself while still finger sized. Went back to buy some more the next day but they were gone. Oh well, I'll keep an eye open for them.
Provencal style stuffed zucchini
serves 4 as a rich starter or, together with a nice salad as light meal
4 round zucchini
100 g (3.5 oz) Camargue red rice
4 Tbsp grated Parmigiano Reggiano
6 basil leaves
1 small or half a large onion, finely diced
50 g (1.7 oz) pancetta or bacon
1 Tbsp EVO oil
Cook the rice in abundant, slightly salted water, till al dente. Drain. Meanwhile hollow out the zucchini. Remove the tops, which will serve as lid, and carefully remove the zucchini flesh with a spoon. Chop it. Heat the EVO oil in a pan, add pancetta and wait till it starts turning brown on the edges. Add onion and when this turns tender the zucchini flesh. Cook, stirring, till the zucchini flesh starts showing the first caramelised spots. Add basil, salt and pepper and let cool. Bring a big pot of salted water to boil and cook the hollowed out zucchini for 5 minutes. Remove them from the water and cool. Once the stuffing is cool add the egg and cheese and stir well. Spoon enough stuffing to almost fill each zucchini and cover with the lid. Place in an oven-proof dish and bake for 45 minutes. Serve them warm, but they taste great at room temperature too.
The recipe for the Provencal stuffed zucchini I modified comes from an Italian book, La Provenza in cucina, Mondadori. Apart the rice substitution I slightly modified quantities in the stuffing.