Stuffed Zucchini

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This dish is a perfect example of the amazing convergence of both sides of my family’s roots. My paternal grandmother, Nonna Giulia, and my maternal grandmother, Nonna Mary, both made these stuffed zucchini almost exactly the same way. Unfortunately, I have no written record from either grandmother, so my recollection has morphed into a single recipe. The tricky part is hollowing out the zucchini without breaking through the skin. The easiest way is to scoop from both ends of the zucchini, then push the insides out. The pulp is not used here but can be made into a delicious pasta sauce or used in a frittata.

Time from start to finish: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds zucchini
  • ½ pound ground beef chuck
  • ¾ cup Italian rice for risotto (Carnaroli, Violone Nano, or Arborio)
  • teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • pounds fresh tomatoes, or cups canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Cut off the ends of the zucchini, then cut each squash in half crosswise. Use an apple corer (or a dinner knife with a rounded tip) to scoop out the inside of each zucchini, leaving a tube shape with a ¼-inch wall. Save the pulp for another meal.
  2. Put the ground beef and rice in a mixing bowl. Add the grated nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands, then fill the hollowed-out zucchini with the mixture. Only fill up to about ¼ inch from the ends to allow space for the rice to expand as it cooks.
  3. Peel and coarsely chop the tomatoes.
  4. Peel and finely chop the garlic and put it with the olive oil in a shallow braising pan or a skillet deep enough to accommodate the zucchini. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the tomatoes and season lightly with salt.
  5. Once the tomatoes are bubbling, add the stuffed zucchini, lower the heat to medium, and cook until very tender, 45 to 50 minutes. If there is still liquid in the pan when they are done, raise the heat and cook, uncovered, until the sauce reduces. Serve hot or at room temperature.