no skillets were harmed in the making of this dish
I usually sauté a ratatouille in stages in a large skillet, adding the tomatoes at the end to bring it all together. Today, I’m going to roast it all in one big dish, even the bacon, still adding some crushed tomatoes at the end. I just wish a had more than a few garlic cloves to throw in, but those few will have to do. I’m going to try to keep all the vegetables cut to the same size, not too small, and use enough olive oil, keeping in mind that the bacon is going to add its own fat. I’m using a smoked, thick-sliced bacon from a local butcher, maybe just 2-3 slices, so it’s not overwhelming. My poor husband will be eating a ribeye and some roasted zucchini, because he has silly opinions of eggplant and mushrooms.
It’s a cold, winter day, so having the oven on is a bonus, one that I would prefer to standing at the stove on a Saturday. I used two old standby Pyrex dishes, the 3 and 4 quart oblong sizes, to fit in all the ingredients, sprinkling the bacon over the tops to brown up and drizzle their bacony goodness all over. The glass baking dishes were a real mess, but I’m giving the dishwasher a chance to redeem them.
Ready for the oven
Roasted and ready to combine
The roasted garlic
Tossed with crushed tomatoes, parsley, and marjoram
Waiting for the Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat oven to 400°
1 medium-large eggplant
10 oz Baby Bella mushrooms
1 large onion
1 large red bell pepper
I medium-large zucchini
3-5 unpeeled cloves of garlic
3 slices thick bacon
6 oz crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
lots of olive oil
salt & pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Clean then cut all the vegetables in a large dice; I quartered the mushrooms and cut the zucchini in angled chunks. Toss each separately in olive oil to coat and place in glass baking dish. I kept each vegetable in a separate row in case any were done sooner than the others and needed to be removed—none did. I had too many to all go in one dish. The eggplant went in a dish of its own, topped with the unpeeled garlic cloves.
- Salt and pepper all the vegetables, then sprinkle diced bacon over the top. This allows you to see when the bacon is browned and to remove it, if needed.
- Roast at 400° for 45 mins. Remove from oven, but keep the oven on. Combine all the roasted vegetables in one dish.
- Press roasted garlic out of cloves and mix with tomatoes and herbs. Toss vegetables with the tomato mixture, mounding it in the center of the dish.
- Return to oven for about 5 minutes or until hot and a little bubbly.
- Serve with lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. I prefer this to mixing in the cheese, because it reheats better. Then you can always add the cheese in whatever way you are eating the ratatouille—with polenta or scrambled eggs, for example.
I’m roasting some of the garden tomatoes today while I’m housebound with the roofers who are stomping and banging all over the rooftop. Oh, wait, one of them just turned on way-too-loud radio, so I won’t be reading that half-finished novel. I didn’t think I’d be using the tomatoes today, until I looked in the vegetable bin and saw those two big zucchinis I picked up a few days ago. Pair that with the pound of ground beef I mindlessly took out of the freezer and some cheese in the fridge, and all of a sudden dinner puts itself together, sort of.
I’m keeping out a couple of fresh tomatoes to add to the filling so there is a combination of tomato flavors, fresh and roasted. No, my husband does not like tomatoes, but he tolerates me, because if we never ate some of the things he says he hates, cooking and eating would be no fun. After 20 years of eating mushrooms, for example, he declared last year that he can’t stand them anymore. I don’t think we had a mushroom all summer, but they will be coming back in the fall and winter, and he can just pick them out. But today, the tomatoes are in.
Meaty tomatoes hardly need seeding
Seasoned with garlic and thyme for roasting
Mash fresh tomato pulp into beef
Stir in roasted tomatoes
Fill and top seeded zucchini
Bake until browned and tender
That’s a wrap.
I could have made the entire meal on the grill, but the roofers are also doing the patio roof above the grill and making some mess, so it’s all indoors today. A few things make this meal easy to prepare:
- Yes, it takes time to roast tomatoes, but your time is free while they sit in the oven. I like the one-hour roasting, but you could turn down the temperature and make it go all morning.
- The tomatoes are seasoned for roasting, so you don’t need to add anything more than salt and pepper to the filling when putting it together.
- When you scoop out the zucchini seeds (I forgot to take that picture), put the shells in the microwave for a few minutes to precook them, ensuring that they will be done when the topping is browned.
Roasted Tomato Stuffed Zucchini
Preheat oven to 375°; line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
6-12 tomatoes (keep two out for the filling without roasting)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried or fresh thyme
2 teaspoons sea salt
- Core tomatoes and cut in half, crosswise. Seed tomatoes if needed. Many of my San Marzano tomatoes were so meaty that seeding would have been a waste of time. I did seed the few round tomatoes.
- Place tomato halves on sheet pan.
- Sprinkle minced garlic over all.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Sprinkle fresh or dried thyme and sea salt over all.
- Roast for about an hour or until the tomatoes are to your liking. I do like mine a little charred on the edges and concentrated, so I left mine in longer in a 300° oven.
- Remove tomatoes to cooling rack over paper towels or parchment paper.
- Tomatoes can be stored at this point in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.
Preheat oven to 375°-400°; drizzle olive oil on bottom of large baking dish.
2 large zucchini
1 lb ground beef
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
6-8 roasted tomato halves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
- Halve the zucchini lengthwise and trim off the stems. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. I leave in most of the flesh, but some people scoop down to the shell and diced the flesh to use in the filling. I did not use the scooped out seeds.
- Place the zucchini shells on a plate and microwave for about 2 minutes or longer to precook them.
- Combine 1/4 cup of the cheese with the bread crumbs and melted butter. Set aside.
- Brown ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat, cooking down any liquid and removing any fat, if necessary. Salt and pepper the meat.
- Add diced fresh tomatoes and any leftover minced garlic from the tomato roasting. Mash the tomatoes into the pan and they will disappear into the meat mixture. Continue cooking until most of the liquid is cooked away.
- Stir in the roasted tomatoes, stirring until heated through.
- Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup of the grated cheese.
- Fill the shells carefully using two teaspoons, but don’t agonize over spilt filling.
- Top the filling with the breadcrumb mixture, using your fingers. It’s a kind of balancing act.
- Bake the filled shells for 30 minutes. You could cover the dish with foil for part of the time, if you think the zucchini needs more concentrated cooking or if you did not precook them in the microwave.
This was a great dinner without a heavy starch like pasta, and my husband didn’t even notice the tomatoes, until I told him later.
I roast zucchini all the time in chunks or round slices with just olive oil and salt & pepper. Sometimes I add a little grated Parmesan, and more often than not other vegetables (carrots, onions, mushrooms). Just thought I’d go for sticks today to resemble the french fries we’re not having with our hamburgers. I’ve seen the recipes for sticks that are breaded with the traditional flour-egg-breadcrumb breading, but I really don’t want to hide the vegetable in breading nor add more starch to the meal than is necessary. I mean, we’re already having buns with the burgers. I’m one of those people who likes to limit the starch to just one per meal. That generally means either a bun or potato/rice/noodle but not both together. Yes, vegetables are carbs, but usually low to moderate on the glycemic index. Zucchini is very low.
Still, I wanted to add a little something to the zucchini sticks, so I mixed a combination of finely grated Parmesan and finely ground almond meal in a 4/1 ratio to sprinkle on over the olive oil. In addition—and this is a step that I don’t usually do for roasted zucchini—I salted and drained the zucchini sticks to remove some of the excess water in them before roasting. For 3 zucchini, I got about 1/4 cup water drained out. The idea is to help them crisp up a bit more easily, but don’t expect them to be like fried breaded veggies. It’s zucchini and it won’t be crispy except on a few edges, especially where the cheese adheres, but you can pick them up with your fingers like fries.
Salt and drain
Place rack over parchment or foil
Sprinkle with cheese
Eat—they don’t last long
Parmesan Zucchini Sticks
3 medium-large zucchini
about 2 teaspoons salt
- Cut each zucchini in half crosswise so resulting sticks are about 3 inches long.
- Cut each of those halves in half lengthwise.
- Cut each of those into four strips lengthwise starting from the center with each cut so each strip is triangular on end.
- Place the strips in a strainer or colander over a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Shake to distribute the salt. Let it sit for about an hour and drain off the water in the bowl.
- Dry the strips on paper towels, then refrigerate until ready to bake, or use immedieately.
Preheat oven to 425°
1 heaping cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (I use a plane grater)
1/4 cup finely ground almond meal (you could substitute bread crumbs or Panko)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- Line a baking sheet pan with parchment paper or foil. Place a rack on the pan. I think you can place the sticks directly on parchment, but they might be more soggy that way from sitting in some of the olive oil.
- Mix the grated cheese, almond meal, and pepper together.
- Set out the zucchini sticks on the rack. Drizzle or brush with olive oil, or toss them in a bowl with olive oil.
- Sprinkle the cheese/almond mixture over the zucchini. It will fall through the rack, which is why you need either paper or foil underneath. Dredging oil-coated zucchini in the cheese will most likely just coat your fingers
- Bake for 25 minutes, checking for browning near the end. Depending on your oven, you might go as long as 30 minutes. the edges will brown, mostly where the cheese is. The cheese that falls through the rack will burn; just ignore it. At least it’s not burning on your pan.
Colorful, because he won’t eat a green pepper and I prefer them.
The main thing to remember about meat-stuffed peppers is that you’re not making meatloaf. You don’t need egg or breadcrumb binders. The meat filling should be lightly stuffed into the pepper shells, not packed in tightly. I think some people actually cook the filling first, so that would be really loose, more like a meat sauce or like the meat filling in a taco.
There are two other issues that arise in filling peppers: (1) rice or no rice, and (2) whether or not to parboil the peppers.
Isn’t rice in the filling a kind of binding ingredient? Yes, probably, but it still doesn’t give it that meatloaf texture. I can’t imagine stuffed peppers without rice, because that’s how my mother always made them. Of course she used Minute Rice®, so it didn’t need to be pre-cooked; it cooked while in the filling and poked out all over like a porcupine, just as in porcupine meatballs. I use whole grain brown rice and pre-cook it, which also means I don’t need to cook a starchy side dish with the meal. Grated zucchini would make a nice rice substitute in the filling.
As for parboiling, I think you really must do that, just for 3-5 minutes to take off that rawness, not to get it to a soft, floppy stage. I have tried it without par-boiling and those darned peppers can still come out bitter and a little crunchy.
This is another of those construction dishes that can be done quickly, if you have pre-cooked a few things earlier or the day before:
- Pre-cook the rice. I cooked 1 cup of rice with 2 cups of water. I only used 1.5 cups of the cooled cooked rice in the meat mixture.
- If making your own tomato sauce, make it in advance, simmering for about 30 minutes.
- Par-boil the peppers.
- Sweat the onions that you will add to the meat mixture, cooling them after.
All these can be done earlier and refrigerated.
Halve the peppers so they stand flat
Par-boil peppers 3-5 minutes
Peppers still hold their shape
Stuff peppers ligthtly
Bake topped with cheese
Great with zucchini
Colorful Stuffed Peppers
Preheat oven to 350°
1 28 oz can peeled whole or crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
3-4 oz water
1 tablespoon minced or grated garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Mix the sauce ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes.
- Set aside to cool while preparing the peppers or refrigerate.
4 large bell peppers in all colors, halved, seeded, and parboiled for 3-5 minutes
1 lb ground beef chuck
1 lb ground veal
1 medium onion, diced and lightly cooked in olive oil, cooled
1.5 cups cooked brown rice, cooled
2 teaspoons minced or grated garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Mix the filling ingredients in a large bowl—the rice and onions should be cool enough to not start cooking the meat.
- Arrange the peppers in a 13″ x 9″ baking dish over about 2 cups of sauce.
- Lightly fill the peppers without packing in the meat filling. You can pile the meat as high as the baking dish will allow. I had a little meat left over and made three meatballs that I placed between the peppers.
- Pour the remaining sauce around the peppers and a little on top of each pepper. I prefer that the sauce come only to the top of each cut pepper, not over the top.
- Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
- Uncover and sprinkle with about 1 cup of grated or shredded Parmesan. Bake uncovered for 15 more minutes or until cheese browns.
- Try to spoon off as much fat as you can before serving.
I roasted zucchini and more parmesan in a dish alongside the peppers for a side. It’s a great pairing.