Stuffed vegetables don’t show up much in restaurants, here or in Italy. But turn the pages of a cookbook or food magazine meant for home cooks and it becomes clear that Italians will stuff just about anything.
Bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, artichokes and squash (including patty pans and zucchini) are seeded, scooped or otherwise emptied to make way for a savory filling. In the case of escarole and cabbage leaves, it’s a wrap job.
Stuffing can be a method with frugality at its heart, a way to extend an expensive protein such as meat or seafood. But the impulse to stuff vegetable is more likely driven by creativity, a zest for celebrating a particular kind of produce by uniting it with interesting new partners.
Often the filling is based on fresh bread crumbs or rice, but couscous makes a great filling…and so do farro and barley. In this recipe. walnuts echo the nutty wholesomeness of the grain, while goat cheese adds tangy richness.
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- ¾ cup pearled farro or barley
- 4 large zucchini
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 shallots or half a small onion finely chopped
- ¼ cup walnuts toasted and broken in pieces
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 to 3 ounces goat cheese or semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese feta is fine
- 2 cups prepared or homemade marinara sauce
Combine 1 1/2 cups water and ½ teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; add the farro; adjust the heat to a simmer and cook until tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.
While the farro is cooking, cut off and discard the zucchini ends. Halve the zucchini lengthwise. Fill a large, broad saucepan with 1 inch water and bring to a simmer. Lay the zucchini halves flat in a steamer insert, cover and steam until a knife penetrates easily, about 10 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to a cutting board or other work surface. Cool until they can be handled.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a spoon, scoop out the zucchini pulp, leaving a shell about ½ inch thick. Sprinkle the zucchini insides lightly with salt. Roughly chop the pulp.
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the shallots until golden. Add the zucchini pulp and cook briefly. Add the farro, walnuts and thyme. Fold in the goat cheese. Season with more salt, if needed, and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread the marinara sauce over the bottom of a large rectangular casserole dish. Spoon some of the farro-goat cheese mixture into a zucchini shell, pressing lightly in order to mound more on top. Place it in the casserole dish and repeat with the other zucchini.
Bake the stuffed zucchini until heated through and lightly browned on top. Spread some of the marinara sauce over the bottom of dinner plates or shallow soup bowls. Top with two zucchini halves per serving.