How (not) to Stuff a Zuchinni and Other Musings From a Slow Food Weekend

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A long weekend in the city is something. It’s long. It’s quiet. But the heat has broken (why do we say broken? Did it break our spirits? Did it break itself?), finally. There was a wind when I woke up on Sunday, sweet and forgiving against my skin.

Because of that cool wind, I rediscovered cooking and baking.

Turned on the radio, settling in. Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet Magazine, was being interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel on CBC’s Writers and Company, talking about her mother’s manic cooking, her own growth into foodie-ism, and a Thanksgiving dinner in a collective house in the 70’s, created almost entirely from dumpster finds.

As I listened, I made a peach-blueberry crisp for a dinner party that night. Local blueberries and peaches created a complementary sour and sweet yin-yang. As Reichl unspooled her stories I got inspired to do more food writing, but don’t know how or when, exactly. And I thought about how I am always searching for the perfect crisp recipe. Rebar Cookbook‘s is good but not yet, quite, perfection.

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On Monday, the heat returned, a wall of toxic, chemical rays. But for some mad reason I really wanted to stick to the day’s culinary project: a huge mo-fo zuchinni, pilfered from the Guitar Player’s garden. I was working on course prep all day, and I needed a good meal to look forward to. The plan was to stuff the giant vegetable for dinner, 1970’s hippie-style. There’s a recipe in Joy of Cooking that worked for me before, but I decided to use Moosewood‘s classic recipe for more protein and more oomph.

On the way back from the corner store I thought about how stuffed zuchinni was one of the first dishes I ever mastered. Yes, it was the 70’s. I was a high school student. I’d met some girl who’d been hospitalized for anorexia, at the Children’s Hospital where I’d had a summer job. Sometime in the fall, after she’d been released, I invited her to my parents’ house for dinner. My parents and five siblings were not invited (I have no idea where they all went!) I served those stuffed zuchinnis quite formally, in the dining room. They were as fat as she was thin. I was fascinated by the girl. I think I felt sorry for her. I had never heard of anorexia before. In my family we all loved food unabashedly. Eating disorders made no sense to me, and it was as though I wanted to stuff her. I was sure that if I made her a huge, delicious vegetarian meal, she’d never want to be hungry again.

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Back in the present, the heat had not abated by early evening, when I put the stuffed monster-zuchinni into the oven. The Guitar Player and I bickered over the wisdom of doubling the temperature in the kitchen on such a night.

The end result was an interesting trip back to 70’s vegetarian cuisine. A flat, salty taste. A mushy, glutenous mouthfeel. It was satisfying, I thought, and it did feel healthy – you don’t eat too much of such a thing, and the high water content from all the vegetables passes easily through your body. It wasn’t great.

I’m not sure it was stuffed zuchinni that convinced my long-ago eating-disordered friend to love food (and herself) again. But maybe it’s the syntax of culinary expression – its rules of engagement, its arrangement of caring gestures – that is even more important than the food itself.

The Guitar Player and I were relieved when it finally came time to watch Hell’s Kitchen and finish off the last of the fruit crisp, with its twenty-first century resolution of flavours, its high contrast of soft and crisp, its variety of grains, and its unabashed richness.

It’s zuchinni season! Do you have a favourite way of cooking, roasting, grilling, stuffing (or baking with) zuchinni?

5 Comments

  1. hey marusya –

    i’m longing to find a great stuffed zucchini recipe – but i haven’t got one to send, and people often look very suspicious when i propose making it! i have a very vivid sense memory of the first time i smelled and tasted zucchini bread (made like a carrot or banana cake/bread) though. i was living in mainfloor flat in a big old house in downtown huntsville, Ontario, of all places – and this woman (that people in town called too intense) who lived on the second floor above me baked it. all day long the house smelled like sugar and cinnamon and some other lovely delicate scent that i couldn’t place –

  2. Oh, it’s a meta-meta-meta world out there …
    First, I read Ruth Reichl’s books. Next, I went to Montreal’s Blue Metropolis literary festival, where I heard Eleanor Wachtel interview Ruth Reichl. Then I heard excerpts from that interview on CBC Sunday before last.

    And, finally, I read your blog post about the broadcast of the interview at the literary festival about the books, in my very own newsreader here at my desk. I love it. And I so enjoy your blog. And I know someone who makes a really good stuffed zucchini, but I have never succeeded in doing so, so I decided it’s something you have to eat when other people make it, and be content.

  3. hey maryusa-

    I make crisp once a week at work and just made it at home. Are you looking for a good crisp topping or a good basic recipe? Was yours too watery, too starchy? I find that they require more starch than the recipe often suggests and my recent effort (4-5 cups fruit, 1/4 cup sugar, 5T tapioca flour) gave me a really nice interior. It’s a challenge when you are working with berries, too…they’re just so juicy.

  4. Hey Rose, I get that intensity – it’s a zuchinni thing! Don’t worry, we’ll uncover a decent stuffed zuchinni. I can feel it!

    Elvi-Tell your friend to send in their recipe! We’re getting desperate here!

    Lindsey- Thanks for changing the subject! I have no idea what tapioca flour is! Send your crisp recipe…Mine just needed more pizzaz. Maybe i’ll have an entire post on fruit crisps, as I have some Ontario peaches and blackberries ready for their closeup.

  5. This just in…a fancy stuffed zuchinni recipe, from one of my fav food blogs, The Wednesday Chef…

    Garlic and Herb-Stuffed Zucchini
    Serves 2

    2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling (optional)
    1 onion, minced
    4 cloves garlic
    1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
    1/2 cup white wine
    3 tablespoons capers (or 12 pitted Nicoise olives)
    Salt
    1/2 pound baguette
    1/4 cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped basil leaves (or parsley)
    2 cloves garlic, chopped
    4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed, bones removed and chopped (or 10 pitted Nicoise olives)
    1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or toasted almonds)
    3 – 6 (8-inch) zucchini

    1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cook the olive oil and the onion in a large skillet over medium heat until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic; cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, wine, capers or olives and one-half teaspoon salt. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

    2. Trim the crusts and cut the bread into cubes. Place in a food processor or a blender with the basil or parsley and garlic and grind to fine crumbs. Pour into a bowl and stir in the anchovies and pine nuts, or olives and almonds. Set aside.

    3. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise and use a melonballer to carefully remove some of the flesh from the center to make a “canoe.” Leave about one-fourth inch at the sides and ends and a little more at the bottom.

    5. Pour the tomato sauce into a lightly oiled 5-quart gratin dish or substitute two smaller gratin dishes. Spoon the breadcrumb mixture into the zucchini, mounding slightly on top. If you don’t like pasty breadcrumbs, do not press the breadcrumbs down too much. Arrange the zucchini in the gratin dish. Drizzle with olive oil if desired.

    6. Bake until the vegetables have softened and the tops of the breadcrumbs have browned, about 30 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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