Those chubby, spherical summer squash called Roly Poly can be simply sliced and steamed when they’re small, but when they get to be about three and a half or four inches in diameter, they make great containers to fill and bake.
I cut them in half through the stem end and use a grapefruit knife to cut a ring around the perimeter, leaving the shell about ¼-inch thick. By scoring the center section, the flesh can be scooped out with a spoon. I then pre-cook the shell until slightly softened but still holding its shape. I also drain the center or pat it dry to avoid its exuding too much moisture into the filling. Pre-cooking can be done cut side down in a microwave, steamer on top of the stove or in the oven at 325 degrees. It should take 5-7 minutes max.
The center flesh of the zucchini was cooked in a little olive oil and salt and dissolved to a mush that I used to bind the other ingredients: lightly sautéed sliced leeks or onions, garlic, diced zucchini and red peppers that I roasted in the oven, a couple of plum or large grape tomatoes, and basil. Topped with cheese or oiled bread crumbs or left plain, the neat little containers are a meal unto themselves. Since we had unexpected guests, I stretched the dish by serving the stuffed zucchini on spaghetti with basil pesto.
Roly Poly Zucchini Baked with Vegetable and Basil Filling
2 “roly poly” (spherical) summer squash, about 4 inches in diameter
1 green or yellow zucchini, cut into 3/8-inch dice
1 red pepper, cut into 3/8-inch pieces
1 leek, cleaned, halved lengthwise and sliced (or 1 small onion, diced)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 plum tomatoes (or a few cherry or grape tomatoes), cut into ¾ inch pieces
A few leaves of basil, torn
Optional: kalamata or other black olives
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional toppings: grated cheese or coarse bread crumbs tossed in olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half through the stem end. With a grapefruit knife, cut a ring around the perimeter to create a shell about ¼-inch thick, taking care not to penetrate the outer skin. Score the center flesh on a diagonal and scoop it out with a spoon and reserve it. Place two halves on a plate, cut side down, and microwave for 3 minutes. Check to see how fast the shell is cooking and continue to microwave until slightly softened but still holding its shape. It will continue to cook after removal from the oven. (This can also be done in the oven by placing the squash cut side down in a glass pan and letting it cook for about 5-7 minutes, checking every so often to make sure the shell stays intact. Steaming is another option.) When the shells are cooked, remove and place them cut side up, dabbing them with a towel to remove excess moisture. Set aside.
Meanwhile, roast the other zucchini and the red pepper in the oven, sprinkled with a little olive oil and salt, until lightly browned, turning part way through.
Saute the reserved zucchini flesh in a little olive oil. It may dissolve into mush or remain chunky. Either is fine. When lightly browned, remove it to a bowl.
Add a little more olive oil to the pan and add the leek (or onion) and, garlic, cooking until the leek is softened and the garlic is aromatic. Add the tomatoes and let them break down a bit. Add the cooked zucchini flesh and the roasted zucchini and peppers, stirring to combine. Add torn basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste. (Go light on the salt if you’re using cheese topping or adding olives.)
Mound the filing into the zucchini shells, adding the optional topping and bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes or until bubbly. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.
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