Fresh zucchini, hollowed out into a little boat, then stuffed with a filling made of ground pork, zucchini pulp, and the Trinity with lots of garlic and South Louisiana seasonings. That's a Stuffed Zucchini Boat. Bake it to a golden brown and you have a simple, no-angst meal that will get lots of oohs and aahs.
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Zucchini in South Louisiana
Zucchini's popularity in South Louisiana is deep rooted. (Pun intended). This fruit, which acts like a vegetable, likely originated in Central America. Zucchini and other vegetables from that region colonized by Spain, found their way into South Louisiana cuisine centuries ago. Zucchini took well to Louisiana soils and climate and is grown all over the State. When in season, it will be found at roadside vegetable stands and farmers’ markets as well as most grocery stores.
In South Louisiana cuisines, vegetables are not an afterthought. Vegetables not only flavor, accent and stretch other ingredients, they make outstanding side dishes that threaten to steal the show in both Cajun and Creole fare. Zucchini's mild, rich and slightly sweet flavor makes it a perfect match for the seafood and meats that are popular here. Similar to yellow squash and eggplant, it's prepared in a variety of ways and is right at home in Cajun and Creole kitchens where the cooks love to stuff things. Giving in to the temptation to categorize things, Sweet Daddy D's Stuffed Zucchini recipe is an example of Creole-Italian cuisine to me, noting the influence that Italian immigrants to New Orleans had on the emerging Creole culture. Historically, Creole cooks enjoyed a large variety of fresh and dry goods available in the bustling Port City not necessarily available in the Western Plains region where Cajun cooks did their thing.
Here’s What You Need
Here is some of the equipment I used to prepare this recipe:
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Cutting boards, chef's knives, glass prep bowls, Cambro prep bowls, glass measuring cups, measuring cups, measuring spoons, baking sheet, baking dish, Dutch oven, melon baller, turkey baster
Here’s What Yo Do
First…you have a beer. Any recipe is easier and more enjoyable to cook if you are prepared. That means mise en place on the ingredients and equipment. Make sure you have have everything you need and know what you are going to do with each ingredients. It also means preparing yourself by reading the recipe all the way through before you begin and getting in the right from of mind.
Prepare the ingredients
What happens in this step? Want to have fun cooking this? This is the step when we prepare all of the ingredients so all you have to do is concentrate on the cooking process.
Start by preparing the zucchini.
- Wash them in cold water.
- Slice the top third (lengthwise) and a smaller slice off the bottom side for stability.
- Scoop out the flesh, leaving a hollowed-out “boat”. [HINT: I like to use a melon baller and a spoon to clean the flesh out. Get as much as you can, but avoid making holes in the shell. But, if you do make a hole, no big deal, you can still use them.]
- Finely chop the zucchini meat that you dig out. You’ll want at least 4 cups, but a little more is fine.
It’s best to soften the zucchini shell. I do this by brushing a little olive oil on the inside and roasting them in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes. They won’t be cooked through but will be a lot softer for those that like to eat the whole thing. Set them aside while you prepare the filling.
While the zucchini shells are softening in the oven, mix the Herb and Spice Blend into a small prep bowl. Finely chop the Trinity and garlic and measure the remaining ingredients. The Trinity can all be placed in the same prep bowl because you will add it all together, but everything else should be placed in individual prep bowls or measuring cups.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Now you’re ready to roll. How’s your beer?
Sauté the veggies
What happens in this step? The veggies, including the zucchini, are the foundation of the flavor. As we brown them in butter and olive oil, they’ll release liquid and their natural sugars will start to caramelize. When that happens, our flavor foundation is created.
Place a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is bubbly, add the Trinity and sauté until starting to brown, which will take about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes until you can smell that distinctive garlic aroma.
Increase the heat and add in the chopped zucchini and a good pinch of salt. The salt will help draw some of the liquid out of the zucchini, This helps with the cohesiveness of the filling. Let it simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes or until the liquid it produces is mostly evaporate.
Add the pork and make a filling
What happens in this step? We’ll build upon the foundation by adding the pork and the Herbs and Spices. All of this will simmer in a rich stock, intensifying the flavors as it reduces. When we tighten it up with some breadcrumbs, we will have a mild filling packed with flavor.
Crumble the ground pork by hand into the vegetables. We want the smallest pieces possible, so crumble them by hand, but also smash the larger pieces with your cooking spoon as it cooks.
Maintaining medium-high heat, brown the pork. Stir regularly, remembering to break up the larger pieces with your spoon. The pork should be sufficiently browned after about 8 minutes. You should remove some of the excess rendered fat from the Dutch oven. A turkey baster is my go-to tool for this!
Add the Herb and Spice Blend and give it a good stir.
Increase the heat and add the stock. Bring it to a heavy simmer, then reduce the heat and let it simmer, uncovered, as the stock reduces almost completely. This will take about 20 to 25 minutes and should result in a cohesive blend of the meat and veggies.
Like Archie Bell and the Drells from Houston, Texas, it's time to tighten up. That's what the breadcrumbs are for. You don’t want to overdo it so start with about ½ cup, mix it like crazy and add more as needed to achieve a sticky, smooth filling-like consistency. Most of the time I end up using the full cup of breadcrumbs, but there have been times when less has been just right.
Give it one last serious stir to make sure all the ingredients are mixed well. Cover the Dutch oven and set it off the heat for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Stuff the zucchini boats and bake
What happens in this step? This is the transformative step. This delicious filling is placed in their little boats and roasted in the oven while the individual ingredients become one delicious flavor.
The best way to stuff the zucs is to take one in your left hand (if you are right-handed) and, using a spoon, place some filling into the cavity starting at one end. Use the back of the spoon to push down and remove any air and voids in the boat. Stuff ‘em until they’re completely full with a little rounded top higher than the sides of the boat.
Place the stuffed zucchini into a glass baking dish (or any suitable baking dish). When all the zucchini are stuffed, top each one with a light sprinkle of breadcrumbs and Romano cheese. Top each boat with two or three small tabs of butter. Add about ½ inch of water to the baking dish, making sure to get water under each zucchini. Just lift each boat up for a second and the water will run underneath.
Place the baking dish in the 350-degree Fahrenheit preheated oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the top is browned. Done and yum.
Hints and Tips
Yes, you can make them up to the baking step in advance and keep them in the refrigerator for up to a couple of days. I would recommend not topping the boats with breadcrumbs and Romano until right before baking. You can also make the filling and hollow out and soften the zucchini in advance and then assemble when ready to bake. Let them come to room temperature before baking as directed.
Leftover Stuffed Zucchini can be kept in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. For best quality, make sure to store them in an airtight container.
You can also freeze the Stuffed Zucchini (baked or unbaked) for up to 10 months in an airtight container. A vacuum-sealed bag is the best. Defrost overnight in the fridge, then bake for 20 to 40 minutes until heated all the way through. You can also reheat them in the microwave.
Zucchini are pretty nutritious and should be a part of our diets. Check out this article about the health benefits of zucchini.
You can substitute fresh pork sausage or Italian sausage for the ground pork. Zucchini can also be stuffed with ground beef, various vegetables, or crawfish, shrimp or crabmeat. You can also add up to 1 cup of peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes to this recipe. Make sure to drain all the juice before adding.
Nope, zucchini is a summer squash so the skin is edible. The entire zucchini is edible, except for the hard stem part. There usually are not a lot of seeds in zucchini and some people remove those because they can be slightly bitter. I personally just leave the seeds in the pulp.
This is a main dish or a side dish, depending on what else you have prepared. It is excellent with a side of pasta, red beans and rice or Dirty Rice. It is also perfect for some Sauce Creole ladled right on top.
Here are some other great vegetable dishes from Sweet Daddy D:
Check out more Cajun and Creole Recipes:
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Yeah You Right!
Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Here's What You Need
- 6 zucchini
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion chopped fine
- ½ cup bell pepper chopped fine
- ¼ cup celery chopped fine
- 2 tablespoons garlic chopped fine
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs plus some for the top
- ¼ cup Romano cheese
Herb and Spice Blend
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon dry basil
- ½ teaspoon dry thyme
- 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup grated romano cheese
Here's What You Do
- Rinse the zucchini in cold water.
- To prepare the zucchini, slice the top ⅓ of the zucchini lengthwise and a small slice on the button side so that they are stable when placed in the baking dish. Use a spoon or melon baller to remove the flesh from the zucchini leaving small “boats”.
- Finely chop the zucchini flesh and set them aside, you should have about 4 cups but a little more is fine.
- Brush some olive oil on the inside of the zucchini and place them in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes to soften. Set aside.
- Finely chop the Trinity and place it in a prep bowl.
- Finely chop the garlic and measure all the other ingredients.
- Place a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat.
- Add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is bubbly, add the Trinity and saute until starting to brown, about 10 minutes
- Add the garlic and continue to saute until aromatic, about 2 minutes,
- Increase the heat and add the chopped zucchini. Simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes or until the liquid begins to evaporate.
- Crumble the ground pork into the Dutch oven.
- Brown the pork, smashing the larger pieces with your spoon.
- After about 8 minutes, remove some of the excess rendered fat.
- Add the Herb and Spice Blend and mix thoroughly.
- Increase the heat and add the stock. Bring the stock to a heavy simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer the stock until has been reduced almost completely. This will take about 20-25 minutes.
- Add the breadcrumbs (start with about ½ cup and add more as needed). Stir well to combine all of the ingredients.
- Cover the Dutch oven and set aside, off the heat, for about 10 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Stuff each zucchini boat with the filling, mashing down with your spoon to fill every void.
- Top each stuffed zucchini with a light layer of breadcrumbs and Romano cheese. Place two or three small tabs of butter on top.
- Place the stuffed zucchini in a prepared baking dish. Add about ½ inch of water to the baking dish, making sure to get water under each zucchini.
- Place the baking dish in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the top is browned.
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