We had a lovely dinner party last weekend, the first real dinner party that we have had since we moved to Charleston, bringing people in who had maybe met on one previous occasion (our daughter’s first birthday party), but people who I felt would probably get along. My mother throws a fantastic dinner party and has almost made it an art form. I aspire to throw the same type of laid back, delicious and interesting parties that she always threw.
I think we were pretty successful, there was plenty of wine and plenty of food, conversation never became dull and there were never any uncomfortable silences. We had two vegetarians at our table and one friend who is gluten-free which was a great challenge for my Italian kitchen. Since we were avoiding wheat, pasta wasn’t an option and I didn’t want to spend half of the night stirring a pot of risotto so I went with stuffed vegetables, something that I could make ahead of time and stick in the oven when the guests arrived. I made enough of them to feed an army, half of them filled with potatoes for our gluten-free friend and the other half with the following recipe with breadcrumbs and mushrooms. Both are recipes from Liguria where stuffed vegetables are very popular and common, with no one way for stuffing them.
Zucchine Farcite alla Ligure
adapted from The Vegetarian Table: Italy by Julia della Croce
I threw in a few tomatoes, because there was so much stuffing left over and it would have been a shame to waste it, plus baked tomatoes are so delicious.
- 4 globe zucchini
- 2 tomatoes
- 1/4 pound stale bread, crusts removed
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/4 pound fresh white cultivated mushrooms
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram, or 1 tsp dried marjoram
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- freshly milled black pepper
- 7 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Wash the zucchini well to remove any imbedded dirt. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 tbsp salt and the zucchini and boil until they are just tender but not too soft, about 10 minutes.
Slice off the tops of the tomatoes and discard. Scrape out the seeds from the cavities, sprinkle the cavities lightly with salt, and then place the tomatoes upside down on a paper towel to drain for about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, shred the bread and place it in a small bowl with the milk to soak. Using a soft brush or clean kitchen towel, remove any dirt from the mushrooms. Trim off the tough bottoms from the stems and discard. Quarter the mushrooms and slice them thinly.
As soon as the zucchini are ready, drain them, or remove them from the steaming rack. When cool enough to handle, trim off their ends. Cut them in half lengthwise. With a pairing knife, scoop out the flesh, leaving the shell about 1/4 inch thick. Using your hands, wring out as much water as possible from the scooped out flesh. Chop it and set it aside.
Place the oil, garlic and onion in a cold skillet over low heat. Sauté gently until the garlic and onion are softened but not colored, about 7 minutes. Add the parsley and sauté for an additional minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and marjoram to the skillet and sauté gently until the mushrooms are softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
When the mushroom mixture has cooled, add the egg, salt (3/4 tsp), pepper to taste and 6 tbsp of the parmigiano. Using your hands, squeeze out as mush of the milk as possible from the bread. Add it and the chopped zucchini flesh to the bowl and miz thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the zucchini shells and tomatoes, diving it equally among them. Place the stuffed vegetables in a baking dish and sprinkle the remaining parmigiano over them.
Slip the dish onto the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
*You can make this the day before, be sure to cover the vegetables and refrigerate them and to bring them to room temperature prior to baking them.
One Year Ago: Linguine with Artichokes and Scallops