Nothing says summer like firm, ripe vegetables plucked from Mother Earth moments before. A prolific provider, zucchini and its cousin, the summer squash, are iconic summer vegetables. Their mild flavor and firm, but not hard, flesh blend seamlessly with almost any dish. Grilled, sautéed, fried or roasted, these soft-skinned squash can do it all. Culinary chameleon aside, the zucchini also packs a surprising nutritional wallop. It’s low in calories—a medium specimen has but 33 of them—and high in vitamins and minerals, specifically potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and B-6. A veritable treasure trove of good nutrition.
Our interests this week lie in a hybrid zucchini. The size of a small gourd and shaped like a pumpkin, the cupcake hybrid is perfect for slicing and grilling, but just begs to be stuffed. It’s soft skin and tender flesh make cleaning this specimen a joy. There’s no risk of digital amputation or serious puncture wounds trying to remove the “lid” or a tendency for carpal tunnel syndrome while trying to scrape out the insides. Like all zucchini, the flesh yields to a sharp knife and a simple soup spoon without so much as a whimper. Unlike their tubular siblings, the hybrid has large seeds that should be removed before eating.
To help remove excess water from the zucchini’s flesh, salt can be sprinkled over the inside surface of the zucchini. Place the zucchini cut side down to allow the water to drain out. The added salt gives the mild flesh some added flavor during cooking as a bonus. While this step isn’t necessary, if you find your cooked zucchini to be watery or soggy, a short 30-minute salt treatment will greatly help. Depending on your stuffing choice, added liquid may be a bonus. We’ll be stuffing our zucchini with a sausage and bread stuffing that won’t be harmed by a bit of extra water. Whatever you decide, the inside flesh should be seasoned with salt and fresh ground black pepper before stuffing.
Stuffing isn’t the end of this gastronomic journey. Our savory stuffed squash needs a suitable topping. Melted cheese wouldn’t go amiss here, but let’s consider something a bit more subtle. A butter, garlic and white wine sauce will add the perfect tangy balance to the savory stuffing and mellow zucchini. A dusting of fresh grated parmesan cheese and a garnish of fresh herbs and nasturtium blossoms complete this beautiful and delicious platter for two.
Enjoy summer’s bounty with a new flavor.
Stuffed Cupcake Zucchini with White Wine and Garlic
- ½ pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed if you are using links
- 2 cups stale bread cubes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 fresh sage leaves, sliced into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- 2 medium cupcake zucchini, approximately 5 inches in diameter
Cut the lids from the zucchini and scoop out the seeds, discarding the lid and seeds. Lightly salt the inside flesh and invert the zucchini on a cooling rack to allow excess liquid to drain, if desired. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and sweat the onion until it is tender and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the fresh herbs and sauté lightly for an additional minute. Remove from the heat and set aside. In a large food processor with the knife blade attachment, combine the bread cubes, parsley and onion-herb mixture. Pulse until the mixture is crumbs. Add the sausage and pulse to combine, 15-20 pulses. Add the milk and pulse to combine.
Pat the inside of the zucchinis with a paper towel to remove any additional liquid. Season the inside flesh with fresh ground black pepper. Divide the stuffing between the two squash. Place the squash on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour. While the zucchini roast, prepare the wine sauce.
The Wine Sauce
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- fresh ground salt and black pepper to taste
Add the butter to a cold saucepan over medium heat. Allow the butter to melt slightly and then add the minced garlic, stiffing frequently until the butter has melted and the garlic softens and becomes fragrant, about 3 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Reduce the heat if necessary. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. Let the roux bubble over medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes until the mixture just barely begins to brown. Add the wine and chicken stock, whisking to combine until smooth. Turn the heat back to medium-high and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the sauce to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Remove the zucchini from the oven and let them sit for a few minutes. Cut each zucchini in half, top with the white wine sauce and fresh grated parmesan cheese. Each zucchini serves two, or one very hungry person.