Believe it or not, I have been waiting almost fifteen years to make these stuffed zucchini. It was an idea for a vegetarian dish I had wanted to include in my restaurant’s menu, but round zucchini were not easy to find, at least not in my neck of the woods. Then, of course, my life changed – a lot – and the idea was put to the side, along with many others.
Even in Hawai’i this was vegetable I would not often see – if at all – at local grocery stores, and the one time I did I let the chance pass me by.
Last week, exhausted from a week-long marathon of cooking and photographing, I walked into Whole Foods craving green beans, and what do I see? The most glorious looking round zucchini. I was pissed off. Oh yes, you read it right! I was annoyed because I was looking forward to finishing off one last recipe already on the schedule and then get out of the kitchen for a while. But how could I pass on these?
Instantly my brain started ticking off: “Ok, I could pick up some barley, and oh, definitely some mushrooms. A melty cheese, too, of course, because anything baked like this has to drool with cheese. And onions…. no, shallots… and a herb. Hmmm… fresh oregano or thyme? I use thyme a lot already, so maybe oregano…” Sniff, sniff…. sniff, sniff… “Thyme it will have to be.”
All the while I was moving around the various lanes picking up this and that. At the cheese counter I decided to use a locally produced cheese, and selected a Point Reyes Toma, which is a semi-hard cheese with a buttery flavor. It turned out to be perfect, and next time I make my French Onion Soup, I will try it with this cheese.
BAKED ZUCCHINI STUFFED WITH BARLEY, MUSHROOMS & TOMA CHEESE
yields: 10/11 zucchini, depending on the size
- 10 round zucchini similar in size
- 200 gr. (ca 7 oz.) pearled barley
- 680 gr. (1.5 lbs.) flavorful interesting mushrooms of choice, cleaned and sliced as needed
- 290 gr. (ca 10 oz.) Toma cheese, or other semi-hard, melty cheese, grated
- 120 gr. (4 oz.) shallots, peeled and sliced
- 80 gr. (ca. 3 oz.) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish if desired
- extra-virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
COOK THE BARLEY
- Place the pearled barley in a bowl, cover with cold water and let soak for 2-3 hours. After this time, drain the water and rinse the barley well, then cook it in abundant salted water (like for pasta) until done. It could take anytime between 30 minutes to 1 & 1/2 hours, depending on how long you soaked it for. I soaked mine for about 3 hours and it cooked in 30 minutes. Just know that, even when cooked, barley still retains a little bite in the middle of the grain. Drain into a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
Note: at this stage, the barley can be stored covered in the refrigerator for a couple of days, until needed.
COOK THE MUSHROOMS
- Heat 3 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan, then add the sliced shallots. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms, season again with salt and pepper and flip or stir with a wooden spoon. Bring the heat down to medium, cover with a lid and cook for about 2-3 minutes, so the mushrooms sweat out the water. Remove the lid, stir a couple more times and let the mushrooms cook uncovered until translucent and golden, and the juices have all evaporated. Adjust the salt as needed.
- Add the cooked barley to the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and flip or stir, allowing the barley to gather flavor for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle with the prepared 2 Tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves and stir. Remove from the stove and let cool completely to room temperature.
Note: at this point, the mushroom/barley mixture can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator until the next day if needed.
PREPARE THE ZUCCHINI & COMPLETE
- Slice off the top of the zucchini (see image below). If necessary, slice off a sliver also from the bottom to keep the zucchini stable. Using a melon baller or small spoon, remove the inner flesh from the zucchini, leaving about 1/4 inch-thick shell. If you want, you can cut up the zucchini pulp and sauté it with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper then add it to the barley-mushroom combo. I chose not to do that, and just discarded it, since it was the seedy and more watery part.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
3. Lightly season the hollowed zucchini with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. Add 80% of the grated Toma cheese to the cooled mushroom-barley mixture and stir. Stuff the zucchini with the barley-mushroom-cheese stuffing, pressing down gently and mounding it a little on top. Sprinkle with the remaining grated Toma and a little Parmesan. Top the zucchini with their ‘hat’ and place them in a baking dish, then drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Add a little water (about 1/8th of an inch) to the baking dish, then bake for about 45 minutes until golden.
Serve hot as a side, or an appetizer.
These stuffed zucchini are so good, flavorful and satisfying people will be asking for seconds. It is an easy recipe, but a little work intensive because of the steps involved in prepping the stuffing. So I would plan to make a batch, and also split the steps over two days, cooking the barley the day before.
About the barley: I actually cooked the whole packet. If I am going to go through the process of soaking and boiling barley, I am not going to fiddle around and measure. I just cook the whole packet and then use what is left for something else. I ended up making a cold salad with leftover poached salmon, celery, cucumbers, a little onion and some parsley that turned out to be perfect for the heat wave we are still going through.
This is a perfect recipe for the end of summer, with ingredients and flavors that overlap the two seasons. Let me know if you are going to make it and how you enjoy it.