I adore stuffed vegetables. They’re pretty, warm, tasty holders for delicious stuffing and they often involve tomato sauce and melted mozzarella which are my most favorite things ever. They can also be made a day ahead of time and kept in the fridge covered. Like anything involving tomatoes, they actually taste better the next day. So they’re a great party dish because you get the cooking done ahead of time and can spend time with your guests as the zucchini heat. People love them because they taste great, look appealing, and feel a little special.
Stuffing is a fantastic and delicious way to sneak more vegetables into your diet. This version is packed with vegetables and still tastes rich and delicious.
This recipe is not especially quick but it also isn’t difficult. It takes almost as much work to make a lot as a little, so I usually make a lot and then the family enjoys (fights over) the leftovers.
I serve them with extra tomato sauce and parmesan cheese on the side. Serve these stuffed zucchini with a simple green salad, and you’ve got a really fabulous, vegetable-packed, healthful, make-ahead meal.
A note for my dairy-free friends – the cheese may be left out of the stuffing and the topping and they’re still great.
- Homemade Tomato Sauce - double recipe or 3 cups jarred tomato sauce
- 6 large zucchini, about 1/2 lb. each (can use smaller ones and just up the quantity)
- 2 large onions chopped, about 4 cups
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or refined coconut oil
- 2 bunches kale leaves (any type) or collard greens, about 16-20 large leaves
- 4 carrots, unpeeled, grated
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped (chop an additional 6, at the same time, if making homemade tomato sauce)
- 2 lbs. ground turkey or chicken (white or dark meat), or ground beef
- 1 1/2 cups shredded or grated parmesan
- 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
- Ground pepper
- 2 pounds sliced mozzerella, whole milk or part skim
- Strip kale leaves from stems and steam leaves until tender. Let cool. In batches, squeeze out moisture from leaves with your hands. Roughly chop kale.
- Trim zucchini ends and cut zucchini in half the long way. Scoop out the pulp, taking care not to break the zucchini shells. Roughly chop the zucchini pulp.
- Choose a pan large enough to hold all the chopped vegetables. Add onions and oil to pan, stir to coat onions, and sauté on medium-high until onions have softened a little, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery, and zucchini pulp to pan. Continue cooking until vegetables are soft and reduced to about 2/3 their bulk, about 30-40 minutes. Start with heat on medium-high. As the vegetables cook you will need to reduce the heat a little because they start to cook faster and will burn sooner because they've released their sugar. Stir as required, more often towards the end of the cooking.
- Add garlic to cooked vegetables, stir and cook for an addition minute.
- Put vegetable mixture into a large bowl.
- In same pan, add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add ground meat and cook until it loses it's pink color, breaking it up into small pieces as its cooking. Add cooked meat to vegetables in bowl.
- Add parmesan and salt to vegetable/meat mixture and mix well. Taste and add more salt or pepper as needed.
- Arrange zucchini halves in 2 baking dishes. Stuff zucchini with mixture, dividing evenly between zucchini (more or less). The easiest way to do this is to hold a zucchini over the bowl in the palm of your hand. Use your other hand to scoop up and press stuffing into zucchini.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Top each stuffed zucchini with about 2 tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Reserve extra tomato sauce for serving on the side at the table.
- Bake zucchini for 30 minutes, or until zucchini shells are soft when pierced with a fork.
- Remove from oven and top each zucchini with 2 slices of mozzarella. Set oven temperature to broil and return zucchini to the oven for a few minutes, until mozzarella has melted and browned a little.
- Serve with warmed tomato sauce on the side.
- While the tomato sauce is cooking, prepare the kale, chop and and start cooking the vegetables.