Just when you think it is safe to rifle through your vegetable garden, another massive zucchini makes its appearance. This prolific squash takes no prisoners. It is the bully of the vegetable garden, growing atop any delicate tomato or herb plant that dares to grow in its path. I am doing my best to keep ahead of this year’s crop by including zucchini in every stir-fry or salad that hits our plates, baking them on puff pastry, grilling and rolling them with goat cheese, and pureeing them with coconut milk for a silky soup. The battle is on.
This version of stuffed zucchini is purely vegetarian and functions well as a side dish. However, it could easily be made into an entree with the addition of beans, sausage, or ground turkey or beef. The use of brown rice in the stuffing increases the fiber count and health benefits of the dish. The rice is flavored with sauteed garlic, feta cheese, dried chile flakes, fresh mint and basil, and chopped kalamata olives to produce a stuffing that is savory with a kick. After using up the entire huge zucchini in one go, I will dare to say that the score is Dara – 1, garden bully – 0.
Greek Stuffed Zucchini with Kalamata Olives, Feta Cheese & Tomato Sauce
3/4 cup brown rice
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 tsp salt, divided
1 very large or 2 medium zucchini
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chile flakes (more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
8 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
8 fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped kalamata olives
2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 basil leaves, thinly sliced (for garnish)
In a medium saucepan, combine brown rice, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until all the water is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Fluff the rice and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. If using 1 large zucchini, cut each piece in half crosswise. Using a small spoon, scoop out and reserve the zucchini flesh, leaving 1/2-inch of the zucchini on all sides.
Finely chop the zucchini flesh and place in a medium bowl. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 15 minutes to release moisture. Spoon the zucchini flesh into a double layer of paper towel and squeeze to release the liquid.
Sprinkle the zucchini shells with a pinch of salt each. Let stand for 15 minutes to release the moisture. Using a paper towel, blot out the moisture.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the zucchini flesh and red chile flakes and cook, stirring, until the zucchini just begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup cooked brown rice, mint, basil, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. Divide the rice mixture evenly amongst the zucchini shells.
Spread tomato sauce evenly over the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish. Arrange the stuffed zucchini over the tomato sauce. Brush the cut portions of each zucchini shell with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon olive oil evenly over the filling of each zucchini. Bake until the zucchini shells are just tender when pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven. Plate the stuffed zucchini and evenly scoop the tomato sauce across the four portions. Thinly slice 2 basil leaves and garnish the stuffed zucchini.