The thing I love most about actually writing this column from France (okay, what's not to love?) is that I get to cook like the French do. I have no idea what I want to make; I just go down to the market and I pick something. Last week, the market inspired the tagliatelle with zucchini flower pistou. This week, it's stuffed zucchini.
All around the area of Nice they sell petits farcis—which means "little stuffed things"—in stalls on the street and in markets. It's made of hollowed out eggplant, zucchini, tomato, or pepper stuffed with meat, vegetable, bread or rice, and cheese. I made my own petit farcis with little, fat, cherubically round zucchinis from the market that I've wanted to try for years, and a vegetarian filling of fresh bread crumbs, zucchini flesh, mint, basil, pecorino, olive oil, garlic, onion, and chili. Stuffed to the brim with the filling and topped with a zucchini stem chapeau, the little zucchini looked charming—and, I think, slightly more elegant than the petits farcis from the street. Plus, it's one of those inexpensive and convenient dinners that comes straight from the pantry. All I have to do is pick up a few zucchini since I always have the rest of the ingredients sitting in the house.
I ate way too much of this once it came out of the oven, giving credence to the fact that this little piggy went to market.
- Yield:serves 4
- Active time: 20 minutes
- Total time:50 minutes
- 4 small round zucchini
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus 4 teaspoons
- 1 small yellow onion, minced
- 6 small cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
- 2 cups very roughly ground homemade breadcrumbs (made from running cubes of day-old bread through the food processor)
- 20 walnuts halves, well chopped
- 1 cup coarsely grated Pecorino Romano
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the tops off the zucchini, and use a teaspoon to scoop out the flesh and seeds, leaving the exterior walls of the zucchini intact. Chop up the flesh well. If using small long zucchini, cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, and scoop out the flesh that way.
In a wide sautépan, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, garlic, and chili, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini flesh, and cook another 5 minutes. Finally, add the herbs and breadcrumbs, and cook a final 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a medium-sized bowl.
Stir the walnuts and cheese into the breadcrumb mixture, reserving 2 tablespoons of cheese to the side. Drizzle the zucchini with the remaining olive oil, and rub inside and out. Season the zucchini inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the breadcrumb mixture into the cavity until the zucchinis are brimming. Place the zucchinis and their little stem tops (separately) on a foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the top of the stuffing with the remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Pull the zucchini out of the oven, place the stem tops on top of the stuffing, and wrap each whole zucchini package tightly in foil. Replace all 4 back on the baking sheet, and bake until the zucchini is tender, another 15 minutes. Unwrap, and serve right away.