Stuffed Zucchini (Zucchine Ripiene)
The colorful eggplants, peppers and other vegetables of Rome are just begging to be hollowed out and packed with tasty fillings. Zucchini, usually filled with the same beef mixture used for polpette (meatballs), is served as a main course year-round. Here, this recipe features a vegetarian filling, which includes raisins and pine nuts. An Italian hand tool called a vuotazucchine (zucchini emptier) makes quick work of hollowing out the vegetable, but an apple corer works fine, too.
For the filling:
- 6 slices coarse country bread, about 3 oz. total, crusts removed
- 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 Tbs. pine nuts
- 1 Tbs. raisins, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes to soften, drained and squeezed dry
- 4 unblemished zucchini, each at least 1 1/4 inches in diameter
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 can (14 oz.) plum tomatoes with juices or tomato puree
- 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
To make the filling, put the bread in the bowl of a food processor and process until fine crumbs form. Leave the bread crumbs in the processor. In a small fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the onion and its oil to the bread crumbs, then add the egg, cheese, parsley, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Process briefly just to mix. Add the pine nuts and raisins and process again for a few seconds. Alternatively, if making by hand, tear the bread slices into soft crumbs and chop the pine nuts and raisins coarsely with a knife, then stir together all the ingredients with a spoon.
Trim each zucchini, then cut crosswise into pieces about 3 inches long. Using a corer or a small knife, bore a large hole through the middle of each piece. The wall of the resulting cylinder should be about 1/4 inch thick. Using the small knife or a spoon, pack the zucchini pieces with the filling.
Select a fry pan large enough to accommodate the zucchini pieces in a single layer. Pour in the olive oil and set the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the zucchini pieces, laying them on their sides, season with salt and pepper and sauté lightly, turning as needed, until just starting to brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices or the tomato puree and the 1/4 cup water. Cover and simmer until the zucchini are quite tender when pierced with a knife tip, about 1 hour. Check several times to make sure the zucchini are not sticking; if the pan looks dry, add a little more water.
Transfer the zucchini to a serving dish and top with the sauce. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).