Beautiful zucchini and yellow summer squash continue to come in from the gardens every day, and while they do it would be a shame not to have a nice stuffed zucchini boat meal before the season slips by. This is what last night’s convent cook thought as she prepared to make our dinner. She wanted to do something a little different from what we usually do and she turned out a meal that brought applause from the entire sisterhood even though we have had quite a few zucchini meals this summer. Using a combination of sweet and hot Italian sausage and a generous mixture of favorite Italian cheeses she succeeded in satisfying even the most discriminating pallet that evening.
The two things, I think, that put this dish over the top was the combination of cheeses (she used Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago and Gorgonzola) any of which give a distinctive taste, and then the generous use of fresh garden herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley.
Blanch the zucchini in a large pot of boiling water, 7 minutes, then place in cold water 5 minutes. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out all but ¼ inch of flesh. Brown the sausage in a small skillet, breaking the pieces into small bits, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove the meat from the skillet.
In the same skillet, on medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute (add a little bit of olive oil if the pan is dry). Add the meat back to the skillet along with the cream cheese, zucchini pulp and bread crumbs and stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired; fresh basil, oregano and parsley are nice.
Place the zucchini boats on a small sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill with the meat mixture. Top with tomato halves and grated cheese.
Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Garnish with basil.
If there is any dish that speaks to me of autumn, it is a tasty baked stuffed squash. Filled with a flavorful mixture of sausage, onions, celery, apples, bread crumbs and seasonings, this dish can be a hearty accompaniment to a full course main meal or served on its own, with a roll and salad as a most satisfying lunch. In either case, it always pleases the eater to have their own individual squash.
Remember Thanksgiving will be here before you know it, and any self-respecting roast turkey would be proud to show himself off beside a platter full of these cunning little specialties on your Thanksgiving buffet table.
Prepare the squash for roasting: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the lower- middle position. Slice the squash in half from stem to root and scoop out the seeds.
Transfer the squash to a baking dish: Place the squash halves cut-side-down in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to fill the pan by about 1/4 inch. Cover the dish loosely with foil and place the dish in the oven.
Roast the squash: Roast the squash until very soft and tender when poked with a fork or paring knife, 30 to 50 minutes. Exact roasting time will depend on the size and variety of your squash.
Prepare the filling: While the squash is roasting, prepare the filling. Depending on the size of your squash, 2 to 3 cups of combined ingredients is usually sufficient. Sauté raw vegetables and apples.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust the spices, salt, and pepper to your liking.
Stuff the squash halves: Flip the cooked squash halves so they form bowls. Rub the inside with a little butter and sprinkle with onion salt and pepper and brown sugar. Divide the filling between the halves — it's fine to really stuff the wells and also to mound the filling on top.
Bake the stuffed squash halves until bubbly: Re-cover the pan with the foil and bake the halves for another 15 to 20 minutes until both are hot and bubbly. Remove foil. Top with buttered bread crumbs and bake uncovered at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until golden.
Hospitality is an important ministry of Benedictines, but also with that comes the need for a spirit of flexibility! You never know when a guest can appear needing a meal or a place to spend the night. Being a Type-A personality and a perfectionist, this “gift” is not something that comes naturally to me. My life at the Villa was a wonderful time for me to breathe and let God take the reins.
It’s a place where I hear the gentle guiding voice of the Holy Spirit.
We had some special guests coming to stay at Villa Via Sacra, and as usual, we had many other things that felt equally important going on at the same time. I thought I should plan a meal that could be prepped, held, and baked at the last minute, so that we could be free to do all of these things, but still sit down and enjoy a meal with our guests, so I prayed about what should be served. Nothing immediately came to mind, which was frustrating! I needed answers, I didn’t have time to waste, and most importantly, I had to go grocery shopping! I guess God was teaching me a something…
Then one day, not too long before they arrived, this recipe came to mind, and it felt perfect. The guests were older, it was a hot day. They would be traveling for a couple hours before arriving, and I knew they would be very tired. This recipe is light, easy on the stomach, and pleasing to the eye. It turned out to be a wonderful, relaxing meal and a lesson to me about depending on God’s timetable, not my own.
I cannot remember another year when our tomato crop has ever been more bountiful than it has been this summer… absolutely beautiful pickings of the healthiest and tastiest fruits each day, and we enjoyed them in so many different ways. My favorite way being sun warmed straight off the vine.
One of the ways in which they are most often requested at the convent is stuffed with a zucchini, onion, breadcrumbs and cheese mixture. I started making these years and years ago and they have never lost their appeal. They are beautiful to serve and a most flavorful addition to any meal. You must be sure to make some before the season comes to a close.
Cut tops off tomatoes, scoop out pulp, and drain upside down on paper towel or a rack.
Grate squash and onion. Mix in salt. Let sit ½ hour; squeeze out liquid and sauté in small amount of olive oil until soft. Set aside 4 teaspoons each of Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Add remaining cheese, bread crumbs and white pepper.
Cook squash mixture in frying pan until liquid is absorbed.
Fill tomatoes. Sprinkle tops with reserved Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10-15 minutes or until hot and golden brown on top. Do not overcook.
“Please, could we have Salisbury steak for dinner sometime? My mother made it all the time and I love it.” I found this note on the convent kitchen counter a few days ago.
Now how does one ignore a request like this? Immediately, we set out to find a good recipe for this old favorite, and served it a few nights later. I’m not sure it was exactly like “Mom made it,” but it certainly made the sister who requested it, as well as many others, very happy. We served it with mashed potatoes (as they always do down South), roasted carrots and zucchini.
How long has it been since you served Salisbury steak?
As I helped clear the Retreat lunch tables, one of the leaders, a good friend (and one of my most honest) looked up at me with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. “Delicious, Sister Irene,” he said, “But why is it that people in general seem to think that the only way to cook eggplant is with tomatoes?” Well, here was a question I’d never before been asked that made me stop and think. I didn’t feel it was a complaint or criticism so much as a challenge. He appeared to have enjoyed my eggplant Parmesan because his plate was clean. He’d even had a second helping!
His forthrightness set me on a course that expanded my eggplant repertoire. Up until then I had pretty much settled for recipes I’d felt comfortable making and knew most people liked. But he was a Southerner and his tastes were more towards creamy-styled dishes than Mediterranean. I asked him for suggestions and then launched into an exploration of tomato-less eggplant dishes. After trying multiple ones I settled on several favorites that I’ve stuck with over the years, this being one that both he and I like—you may, too.