Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Giant zucchini are good for things other than dirty jokes.

Summer is rolling along, and we are getting close to that time of year when every back yard garden and farmer's market will be full of zucchini and summer squash, some of which will be monstrous in size. These monster zucchinis were one of my favorite things when I was a kid. Part of that is because I always love eating zucchini, part of that is because a zucchini the size of a baseball bat is really cool looking, and mostly it is because my grandmother uses those huge zukes to make stuffed zucchini, which is just delicious.

A few years ago, my friends and I stumbled across some of these giant zukes at a farmers market for like a dollar a piece. I immediately ran up and grabbed one shouting, "Yo, let's stuff these mother fuckers." none of my friends had any clue what I was talking about, other than the ones that thought I was making a dirty joke. I guess I had assumed that since my grandmother made them, and they were so delicious, that everyone would make stuffed zucchini. I appear to have been wrong. My friend Pete did say that it sounded similar to a Middle Eastern dish, but I can't remember the name of it.

That day, I made it my mission to work out a vegan version of my grandma's stuffed zucchini, that I loved so much. It took a couple of shots, but I like to think that I now have it pretty much nailed. My grandmother's original version was basically sweet Italian sausage, tomatoes, and rice, topped with melted cheese and bread crumbs. I have found that you can match that pretty closely using TVP, seitan or veggie burger crumbles, with the right spices. I use TVP because it is getting really easy to find(you can get it at most grocery stores now) and it is pretty cheap. The cheese and breadcrumb topping is not essential, but is damned tasty, so if you have a hard time finding either of them vegan, just leave em out, and you will still have a fine meal.

p.s. This recipe makes like 15 servings, so make it for a party, or be prepared to eat it for a week. Either way it is tasty enough to be a success. You can cut the recipe in half and use smaller zucchinis, but I prefer the giant zukes. There isn't really a taste difference in the zucchini, but the ratio of stuffing to zuke is better balanced in the larger guys.

Grandma Davies' Stuffed Giant Zucchini (veganized)

1 - Gigantic zucchini (zukes about a foot and a half long and as big around as a softball are ideal)
2 cups - short grain rice (cooked as per the instructions on the package)
1 - 28 oz. can peeled chopped plum tomatoes, drained (I would save the liquid for veggie stock)
1 1/2 cups - Re-hydrated TVP crumbles (or 2 cups thawed frozen veggie burger crumbles)
1 - med onion, minced
10 oz. - Vegan Mozzarella, shredded (my favorites are Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet and Chicago Soy Dairy Teese)
1/4 cup vegan bread crumbs
6 - cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp - Thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp rosemary leaves
1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp - cooking oil

2 - med sauce pots
1 - large cookie sheet
1 - large salad bowl
1 - food processor or blender (non-essential)
knife, cutting board, etc...

  • In a medium sauce pot, prepare the rice as per the directions on the package.
  • Put the onions, garlic, salt and oil in the other sauce pot over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  • In your blender or food processor pulse all of the spices until they are roughly broken up. If you don't have a blender or processor, just put the spices on your cutting board and chop them with a chefs knife. It will work just fine but take a lot longer.
  • Once the onions become translucent add the spices and continue to sautee for about a minute.
  • Add the TVP (or veggie burger) and tomatoes and continue to stir frequently until it comes to a boil. (This by it's self is an awesome pasta sauce.)
  • Once the rice is finished, combine the rice and sauce in your salad bowl and set aside to cool.
  • Cut your monster zuke in half length wise and trim the ends just enough to remove the stem spot. Be careful with your trimming, because we need to preserve the integrity of the vessel.
  • Using a large spoon, scoop out all the seeds and guts. I would say that you should save this for stock or compost, but it is worthless in stock, and will turn your compost into a zucchini farm, so you should just get rid of it.
  • Use a fork to poke a bunch of holes all over the inside and outside of the zucchini pieces.
  • Rub the outside of the zucchini with a little oil and arrange the two halves on the cookie sheet.
  • If the zucchini halves are unstable, use wadded up tinfoil to steady them.
  • The filling doesn't have to be all the way down to room temperature before you stuff, but you should let it cool enough to thicken up well. This will make it easier to create a nice mound.
  • Stuff each side with enough filling to make a mound about and inch and a half above the top of the vessel. (You will probably have a little leftover, maybe more depending on your zuke size. You can just eat it by it's self, or it freezes pretty well, and can be used to stuff peppers, squash flowers (now that is a recipe I might have to blog soon!) or lots of other veggies.)
  • Place the stuffed zukes into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, testing with a fork every few minutes after you pass the 10 minute mark. The cooking time is going to change a lot based on how cool the stuffing was and how thick the zuke walls are.
  • Once the flesh is still firm, but you can poke into it without too much resistance, take them out and turn your oven up to broil, or the hottest setting it has.
  • Give each side of the zuke a nice coating of soy cheese and then an even dusting of bread crumbs.
  • Put the zukes back under the broiler and watch them closely until the cheese is nice and melty.
  • Be careful because soy cheese doesn't like to melt, so your bread crumbs might start to over brown before the cheese looks really melted. If that is the case just go ahead and take them out, they will be perfect.
Alternate Version
Don't like fake meats? Try using 1 1/2 cups dry brown lentils, prepared as per the package's instructions, in place of the TVP. It will still taste great, the rice/legume combo is a great source of protein, and it will make this dish totally gluten free.