In my youth, my mom occasionally made stuffed peppers for us kids. Although we always polished off the meat and rice stuffed inside, not one of us three children ever took a bite of the pepper. Instead, we carefully sliced and peeled off the mushy exterior, pushing it to the sides of our plates (sadly, even as adults we still do this!). I hated the bitter green pepper jackets. But I loved the meat inside, especially when mashed into the savory tomato sauce in which the stuffed peppers had simmered.
Well, I delightedly stumbled across a recipe similar to stuffed peppers: stuffed zucchini. And with the prolific amount of oversized squash growing in our garden, I have found a savory and fun way to use up a few. With this version, nothing was pushed to the side of my plate in distaste; instead, not one speck of food could be found left on my plate.
Stuffed Zucchini in Tomato Sauce
- 5 medium zucchini or 2 very large zucchini
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil or 1 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
Tomato Sauce (either use your favorite store-bought sauce or make the quick version below)
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup grated onion
- 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
- table salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 (28-ounce) can tomato purée
- 1/4 tsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- ground black pepper
- Wash zucchini. Slice into 3- or 4-inch segments, discarding ends. Spoon out insides, leaving “cups” (I used a spoon but a melon baller could work, too). Be careful to not get too close to bottom or sides when scooping; otherwise, the filling will leak out and the cooked zucchini will collapse. Since most of my insides were large seeds, I discarded them. If the insides are meaty, chop and add to the filling.
- Heat olive oil and butter in pan over medium heat; sauté onions until translucent, about 5 minutes; add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add meat and cook until browned. If you have any zucchini meat, add it along with the meat, too. While meat is browning, add rice and spices. After meat has browned, add about 3 large spoonfuls of tomato sauce to meat. Allow to cool for a few minutes before stuffing zucchini.
- Pack meat into zucchini “cups,” and place in a Dutch oven or other large pot. Add tomato sauce to pot. Cover and cook over low heat until zucchini are completely soft, 45 minutes to an hour.
- Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted.
- Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 tsp. salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in tomatoes and sugar; increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Turn off heat; stir in basil and oil; season with salt and pepper.
Interested in more zucchini recipes? Check these out: