Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Come Sail Away

It seems that time of year is upon us when the zucchini plants in my garden decide to start making lots of little zucchini babies. They aren't quite as Octomom-y as they were last year, but my counter and freezer are starting to fill up with green vegetables, and we're getting sick of eating them in the same ol' ways. Even the zucchini chicken salad is getting kind of old - not to mention that pecans are now about ten bucks a pound.

Enter my good friend Ashley, who, as I've mentioned before, is an excellent cook. One awesome skill that Ashley has is that someone can sort of tell her about something they made, and she will totally recreate it without a recipe or directions. I love to cook, but I find that I'm pretty strict about following recipes - I don't trust myself enough to just go off the cuff and do my own thing. Anyways, Ashley's mother-in-law told her about some tasty stuffed zucchini boats she made, and sure enough, a few days later she was recreating them in her own kitchen.

Lucky for me (and you), Ashley was nice enough to write down her recipe so that I could be a part of her test kitchen. These are awesome - a new way to use up my zucchini, and pretty healthy, too. They're also a little more of a cool weather dish, which is a nice change from all the grilling we've been doing. As Mike said, "They are the perfect combination of yumminess, healthiness, and comfort-foodiness," and I will definitely be making them again!

Ashley's Beef Stuffed Zucchini Boats

1 lb ground round (to make it even healthier, you could easily swap in ground chicken or turkey)
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs (panko, plain, or Italian seasoned is fine)
1 egg, beaten
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp olive oil
4 medium-sized zucchini (I had one regular sized and one MONSTER sized)
3/4 tsp Kosher salt, plus more for drying out the zucchini
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp dried basil or 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (I used a combination - my basil plant are just about shot)
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella (again, use light or non-fat to make it healthier)
2-3 cups prepared spaghetti sauce (I used mushroom since that's what I had, but Ashley used tomato basil)

What you do:

The first thing you want to do is slice the zucchini in half, lengthwise. Put the sliced zucchini in a colander in the sink and sprinkle the cut side liberally with salt. The salt works to draw the extra water out of the zucchini so they they don't get totally watery and mushy when you cook them. I let mine sit for at least a half an hour, but you could probably go even longer. Then, pat the zucchini dry, and microwave them for about three minutes to soften them up a bit. Scoop out the pulp, chop it up, and throw it into a big mixing bowl.

Normal one in the middle - the outer four pieces are from one zucchini!

You can see the water coming out.

Scooped out - waiting to be stuffed!
While the zucchini is draining, saute the onion, celery, and garlic in the olive oil until soft, and let cool. I used to detest chopping garlic - it's so small and slippery and I just found it to be a major pain - until I learned an awesome tip from Rachael Ray. Use a Microplane grater, the kind you would use to zest a lemon. You can just grate the garlic right into the pan. It is so much easier and neater, and the garlic practically melts into whatever you're cooking. Amazing!

My favorite kitchen tool!
Mix together the cooled ingredients, zucchini pulp, beaten egg, breadcrumbs, seasonings, 3 tbsp of grated Parmesan (oh look - another great use for the Microplane!) and meat. Stuff the zucchini with the mixture (pretty heavily) and put in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Top with the sauce and the remaining cheeses. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes, covered. Remove cover and bake an additional 10 minutes until cheese is lightly golden.

I feel like the final pictures I took didn't do justice - even though it might look weird, it was delicious!

Thanks, Ashley! These were so good I just ate the leftovers, cold, for lunch!

Do you have any awesome cooking tips? Share them!!

Happy Tuesday!

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