The other day, one of my neighbors gave me an 8-ball zucchini. It was about the size of a small cantaloupe. I had no idea what to do with the thing, so, naturally, I went to Google. Apparently, they’re called “8-ball” because they should be the size of a billiard ball. However, many, like the one I was given, are much larger. I searched a number of recipes before coming up with what I believe is a good combination of different elements. If you really taste what you’re eating, noting the different permutations and combinations, you can taste the food in your head before you start to cook. Then, as you put together the dish you can adjust some of the elements as you cook. After I get everything together and let it cook for a while, I’m constantly tasting and adjusting.
Here’s my recipe for stuffed 8-ball zucchini.
1lb pork sausage
1 bell pepper, diced
1 Vidalia onion, diced
2T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 slices bacon, chopped and rendered
1 15oz can Contadina tomato sauce
1 15oz can of sliced black olives
½ cup Pinot Noir
2T fresh basil, chopped or 1T dried basil
½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 cup Mozzarella cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
½ cup dry brown rice
This will make enough stuffing for two 8-ball zucchini about the size of a small cantaloupe.
Preheat oven to 375°
In a cast iron skillet brown the Italian sausage over medium heat. Cast iron skillets are naturally non-stick (if properly seasoned) and transmit consistent, even heat. Recently, some have argued that you get an infinitesimal amount of iron from the skillet which is actually healthy for you. If you can’t find bulk sausage, buy links and cut the ground meat out of the casings. In another cast iron skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add one diced bell pepper (green or red work equally well) and one Vidalia onion. After the onion becomes translucent (about five minutes), add the finely chopped garlic and continue cooking for two minutes. Never press garlic – it makes it taste metallic. After you peel a clove of garlic, smash it flat with the flat of the knife. This makes it easier to chop, and you release all the lovely garlic oil.
While the sausage and pepper/onions are cooking, dice four slices of bacon. Put the bacon in a small cast iron skillet and render it over medium heat. When the bacon has become crispy, remove it from the heat and drain on paper towels.
Drain the sausage of any fat and add it to the pepper/onion/garlic mélange. Pour in the can of tomato sauce. I’ve always liked Contadina because they produce a consistent, balanced product. Other brands are too sweet or too metallic tasting. Add the wine, the chopped basil, rendered bacon, and a few twists from the pepper mill. Turn the heat down to medium low so the sauce reduces. You don’t want a lot of liquid when you’re stuffing a zucchini.
Put a half cup of brown rice in a pot with a cup of cold water (the rice-to-water ratio is always 1:2) and a tablespoon of butter. Stir the rice so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat on high and bring to a boil. Stir the rice again, cover the pot, and turn the heat to low. The cold-water method of cooking rice produces a firmer rice than the hot-water method. Plus, it’s always the same cook time. No matter how much rice you’re cooking, white rice will be done in 20 minutes, and brown rice will be done in 25 minutes. The butter helps keep the rice from clumping up and gives it a creamy taste. After ten minutes, stir the rice; sometimes, you have to add a few tablespoons of water to brown rice if most of the water is gone by this point in the cooking cycle. Also, after ten minutes, add the sliced black olives to the sauce. If you put them in at the start, they could get mushy.
After about 20-25 minutes, check the rice. You want the water boiled away with the rice al dente or even a little undercooked (because you’re going to continue to cook it in the zucchini).
While the rice is cooking, cut off the top 1/2 inch or so of the zucchini. Make sure the top is flat and not cut on an angle. With a melon baller (or a teaspoon) remove the seeds (like you do when you’re getting a pumpkin ready to carve). Put the zucchini in the microwave on high for three minutes to parboil it.
Taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper to taste (if it’s not garlicky enough, add some garlic powder). Pour the sauce and rice into a large mixing bowl and stir together. Then, add the Parmesan cheese and stir again. Spoon the sausage-rice mixture into the zucchini. Put the zucchini on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with Pam, non-stick spray. I’ve got a friend who works for a company that uses ten-ton presses to make fiberglass molds. They use Pam to make sure the molds don’t stick. I figure, if Pam can prevent those molds from sticking, it will prevent anything from sticking. Put the zucchini in the oven for ten minutes. Take it out and mound up a cup of Mozzarella on the zucchini. Put it back into the oven for another ten minutes until the Mozzarella has melted and formed a lovely brown crust over the entire zucchini. This is why you want the zucchini to be flat on top – so you get an even melt (as you can see in the picture, I didn’t get this part right).
Wait about ten minutes to cut the zucchini to the let the steam subside.
I served this with a Rex Goliath Pinot Noir (the same wine I used in the sauce – remember, never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink). Rex Goliath is a very inexpensive wine, but it’s a fine, drinkable table wine.
|Fresh from the oven|
|Showing the filling|