Gardeners, you've heard all the jokes. There's the one about the towns where people lock their car doors in the summer for fear neighbors will "gift" them with a bag of zucchini. Or the one that goes something like this: How can you tell someone from (insert place of choice here) has no friends? He's in the supermarket buying zucchini. Or the old saying that you can never figure out the right number of zucchini plants to include in your garden: Plant one, it dies. Plant two, you get way too many.
I don't have my own garden plot anymore, but I've been volunteering at a local church that is starting up a little one, and I hesitated when I saw a zucchini seedling presented for planting. I know how prolific these plants can get. But it's early enough in the season that a) nobody has "gifted" me with any bags yet, and b) I've been so anxious for more produce choices that I've welcomed the recent appearance of zucchini at farmers markets.
One of my favorite ways to eat them used to be stuffed whole, Middle Eastern style. You hollow out the insides with a special tool, leaving the zucchini otherwise intact, and fill them with ground lamb, rice and spices before simmering them in a tomato sauce. But one thing that always bothered me about that recipe was that I had to find something to do with the zucchini flesh I was pulling out; there was no room to put it back in once the meat and rice took up residence.
Nowadays, I make things a little easier on myself. I cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, using a melon baller or spoon to carve them into little boats, and pack the stuffing inside, where there's room to mound it — and even let it spill over. The zucchini flesh goes in the Mediterranean-style mixture, which also includes white beans, olives, tomatoes, feta and parsley. When I bake it, the cheese browns on top, and the zucchini gets just tender enough to be eaten with a fork, without getting mushy.
For now, stuffed zucchini is a satisfying way to get my fill of a vegetable I love. By August, depending on how things go in that church garden, I might be eating my words, printing out golden-oldie recipes for zucchini bread, slipping them along with the vegetables into "gift" bags — and checking the streets for unlocked cars.
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If the zucchini are on the large side, you might want to use a roasting pan and cradle them (to make it easier to fill them) with a large piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Serve with rice or another grain of your choice.
MAKE AHEAD: The stuffing can be made, and the zucchini stuffed and refrigerated, up to 3 days before baking. Bring to room temperature before baking. From Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium zucchini (6 to 8 ounces each)
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup homemade or canned no-salt-added white beans, rinsed and drained
2 small roma-size tomatoes or 1 large tomato, hulled and chopped
1/4 cup small pitted black olives, such as Nicoise, chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use a little oil to lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.
Pour the tablespoon of oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until tender. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Use a sharp melon baller or spoon to scoop out the inside flesh, leaving a 1/2-inch border of skin and flesh all around. Reserve the scooped-out zucchini halves, sprinkling the insides lightly with salt.
Coarsely chop the flesh and add it to the mixing bowl, along with half of the feta plus the beans, tomatoes, olives, parsley and pepper. Stir to combine; this will be the filling.
Arrange the scooped-out zucchini halves cut side up in the casserole dish. Divide the filling among them, mounding it as needed. Top with the remaining feta. Bake until the zucchini halves are fork-tender and the feta has softened and lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
NUTRITION Per serving: 200 calories, 9 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 480 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar