I am quite picky when it comes to zucchini - small is definitely better. Always choose those that feel firm and have a glossy skin - check the ends for any signs of softening as this will give you a good indication of how long ago they were picked.
Having grown zucchini in the past, I know first hand that you should never dally and leave them to be picked for another day. The perfect hand sized zucchini will turn into arm sized monsters literally overnight - at this size they are a watery mass of seeds and rather unappetising.
The dish I'm making is straight from my mother's repertoire and it's a dish that celebrates the zucchini season. It was always a treat to be offered these Stuffed Zucchini.
8 mid-sized zucchini
1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
2 parlsey stalks, finely diced
4 sage leaves, very finely sliced
150 grams minced beef
fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Prepare the zucchini:
Slice the zucchini in half lengthways. Steam or gently simmer until the flesh is just tender.
Take each zucchini half and using a small spoon carefully form a hollow. Reserve the flesh and when all the zucchini are prepared, chop the flesh into a small pulpy dice. Keep to one side while you prepare the filling.
Make the filling:
Heat a good knob of butter in a pan over a medium-low heat - when the butter has melted, add in the onion, garlic, sage leaves and parsley stalks. Sauté gently until softened and just beginning to colour.
Tip in the minced meat and stir well - cook until the meat is well browned.
Add in the reserved zucchini flesh and increase the heat to evaporate any excess liquid. The mix should be fairly dry at this stage. Stir in the parsley, taste and season with ground nutmeg and a little freshly ground white pepper.
Put this to one side and allow it to cool completely.
Once cooled, add the egg and stir well. Sprinkle over some breadcrumbs and a generous handful of freshly grated Parmigiano. Taste and adjust the seasoning - if the mixture is too soft, add some more Parmigiano and/or breadcrumbs. The filling shouldn't be firm or heavy, there needs to be just a little slackness to the mix to keep it light.
Assemble the dish:
Make sure the zucchini are dry and arrange them on a baking paper lined tray. Generously spoon the filling into the channels - don't press the filling into zucchini, keep it nice and light. Finish off with a generous sprinkling of more grated Parmigiano.
Bake in a preheated 180ºC/350ºF oven for about 30 minutes - or until the zucchini have heated through and a golden crust has formed.
Best enjoyed hot from the oven - serve with a salad for a complete meal.