Stuffed zucchini is a vegetable dish in which the pulp of zucchini is removed and the space is refilled with a smorgasbord of stuffing ingredients such as bread crumbs, ground meats or sausage, chopped vegetables, nuts and spices. The zucchini is baked to both cook the stuffing and soften the zucchini. Since zucchini grows lengthwise, most cooks slice the vegetable lengthwise into long hollow halves resembling narrow boats. Therefore, the dish may also be called "stuffed zucchini boats."
The zucchini, a member of the squash family, originates from the South and Central American continents and was consumed by natives for millennia. Explorer Christopher Columbus carried various squash seeds from Central America back to the Mediterranean region, where the Italians further cultivated the distinctive small green squash into a variety that they named "zucchino," or "little squash." The zucchini is also known as the courgette in France, skutasquash in the American Indies, and as summer squash in other locations. The smooth, bland taste and texture of zucchini lends itself to a variety of uses cooked grilled or fried, in soups, breads, casseroles, and for the very versatile stuffed zucchini recipe. Each region has its own method of preparing zucchini with stuffing ingredients depending on available, seasonal ingredients.
The most basic stuffed zucchini recipe uses an additional vegetable, a ground or chopped meat or egg addition, cheese, spices and a binding ingredient such as breadcrumbs or bread cubes. To make stuffed zucchini, the cook chops off the ends of the vegetable and slices it lengthwise. The inner pulp is scooped from the two sections, creating a "boat" that cradles the stuffing. The cook packs the stuffing into the zucchini boats and bakes the dish in the oven on medium heat for approximately 30 minutes. Small stuffed zucchini boats may be served as appetizers, as a side dish, or in larger portions as the main entree.
Cooking with zucchini is simple since the vegetable is versatile and adapts to a variety of cuisines. The technique for making exceptional stuffed zucchini is similar to all stuffed vegetables: proper blending of ingredients and spices. The mild flavor of zucchini compliments the acidic spiciness of tomatoes, ground sausage, basil, oregano and grated mozzarella or parmesan cheeses. Sweeter ingredients such as chopped ham, apples, walnuts, pine nuts and brown sugar create a type of stuffed zucchini dessert. Vegetarian recipes skip the meat products and add a colorful cornucopia of chopped red and green peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and broccoli topped with herbs and drizzled with yogurt or olive oil.