Zucchini Boats with Sausage and Grilled Fennel

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When I was growing up, my parents always had a summer garden.  They grew tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, peppers and other delicious produce including summer squash.  They were (and still are!) pretty proud of their harvest. But by August, the zucchini seemed to be somewhat of a problem.  It’s very unfortunate that my interest in gardening was not cultivated like those vegetables, and so I never really understood the issue with “What to do with all of the zucchini?”  I understood very well, however, how delicious my mom’s zucchini bread was, but not necessarily the appeal of beer-battered and fried zucchini. That was pretty much the extent of the culinary creativity  utilizing my parents zucchini “bumper crop.”  Times have changed though, and so has the focus on  the season’s Vitamin A and fiber-packed, low cal staple.   So whether you’re trying to “use up” your garden’s surplus, or are simply taking advantage of your grocery store’s seasonally lower priced zucchini,  these delicious “Zucchini Boats with Sausage” are an easy dinner and great way to get the meat lovers in your house to eat their vegetables.

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Wash the zucchini well.  A bite of zucchini with that seemingly invisible “sand” that sticks to it is no fun at all. Cut off each end, then cut in half lengthwise.  Gently scoop out the centers with a spoon, leaving about 1/4″ around the sides and bottom. Reserve the center for another recipe such as perhaps, your favorite zucchini bread?

I think the key to these is to choose really great ingredients. I asked the butcher at Whole Foods what kind of sausage he had in bulk. To please a variety of palates,  I mixed an organic, mild chicken sausage with an organic spicy turkey sausage which made for a good – not too spicy, but definitely not boring combination. The best part though, was not having to add any extra spices except some red pepper flakes just because I like things on the spicier side.  I just sauteed some onion in a scant amount of oil until translucent, added the sausage and cooked it through, then stirred in the pepper flakes.

Brush the cut side of the zucchini with a little olive oil, and place them cut side down on a hot grill. After they’ve achieved the desired “grill marks,” (about 5-6 mins) remove the zucchini from the grill, place on a grill-safe pan and fill each with the sausage mixture.   Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and place it on the grill. I do this to help keep some of the moisture from the zucchini inside which helps them soften, but not get mushy.  Close grill and “cook” just til heated through, about 5 – 8 minutes.

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When the zucchini are just about ready, remove the foil, add some cheese and close the grill for another minute or two, just for the cheese to melt. I chose a grated “Truffled Pecorino.” I’ve been known to say that I would eat anything that has truffle oil on or in it, so I had to try this. Just a tablespoon of this super flavorful cheese really added decadence to this dish. You can use any cheese you like. Parmesan seems like a natural choice. You could also skip cheese altogether. Or, you could also add some red sauce before the cheese but…..why?

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Although I love salad, I didn’t think this dish needed one. Instead, I decided to complement the slight fennel flavor in the sausage with some grilled fennel.  I sliced up a fresh fennel bulb, brushed it with a little olive oil just to prevent them from sticking to the grill and added just a dash of salt. I grilled each side for about 3 – 4 minutes while I was grilling the zucchini.  The “boats” are very filling and depending on the size of the zucchini, you might not be able to finish both halves, so the light and flavorful fennel side was perfect.

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Had I thought about it before I dug in, I probably would have gently chopped and sprinkled the pretty fennel fronds on top of the boats for the picture, but didn’t think about it until after the fact.  Like the versatile zucchini itself, there are so many different ways to make and enjoy this meal. Keep in mind that if grilling isn’t an option, just fill the zucchini, add the cheese (or not) and bake in the oven for 20-25 mins at 350. It’s so easy…here’s the recipe:

Zucchini Sausage Boats with Grilled Fennel

  • 4 medium (or 2 small and 2 large) zucchini
  • 1/2 pound bulk sausage (whatever floats your “boat” 🙂 chicken, turkey or pork, etc. If using poultry, just be sure it was ground without the skin)
  • 1  tsp. olive oil plus additional for brushing.
  • 1/2- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (depending on your affinity for spicy)
  • 1 small or 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choice (optional) – I used Truffle Pecorino from the Whole Foods cheese bar
  • 1 cup red sauce of your choice (optional)
  • 1 fennel bulb, washed, with stems and fronds removed and reserved
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1.) Wash zucchini thoroughly, dry with a clean towel or paper towel.  Cut off stem and end, the cut each zucchini lengthwise.  Gently scoop out the centers with a spoon, leaving about 1/4″ around the sides and bottom. Brush cut sides lightly with olive oil.  Slice fennel bulb length-wise. Lightly brush both sides of each slice with olive oil.

2.) Saute onion in 1 tsp. oil over medium heat until translucent.  Add sausage. Stirring occasionally, cook thoroughly.

3.) Place fennel slices and zucchini, cut side down, on hot grill.  After approx. 5-6 minutes, (or when they have “grill marks”) remove zucchini from grill and place on a grill-safe pan. Either move to fennel to the sides of the grill away from the flame to keep warm, or remove it  from grill completely and set aside.  Fill each zucchini with the sausage mixture. Cover pan with aluminum foil and return to grill. Close grill and cook 5-8 minutes, depending on grill heat intensity.

4.) Remove pan from grill, remove aluminum foil, and carefully sprinkle approx. 1 tablespoon of cheese on each boat. Return uncovered pan to the grill just until cheese melts.  Sprinkle chopped fennel fronds on top of the zucchini. Serve zucchini with grilled fennel.

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