One of my favourite restaurants in Milan, ironically, was a Roman restaurant called Rugantino, and my favourite dish on their menu was their zucchine ripiene which they called ‘Zucchine della Nonna’. Zucchine ripiene are stuffed courgettes (or zucchini), usually with meat. It is a main dish in Italy, although it would probably be seen as a starter in Ireland – you could half this recipe for a starter version. In Italy, a minced pork meat and sausage mix is usually used, but I use beef here since in Ireland it is difficult to find Italian sausage meat, and I am not big on pork mince alone! So this is a bit of an Irish take on zucchine ripiene. Although it is quite a hearty, seemly winter dish, zucchine ripiene are eaten in the summer season.
That’s not to say they cannot be and are enjoyed all year round!
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 Courgettes (8 halves)
Olive oil for brushing
Tinned tomatoes (half can) / passata
200g Minced beef
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed/minced
Fresh basil, finely chopped
1 cup of red wine
Wash the courgettes and place on a chopping board. Cut off the top, and the tail if you wish but I usually leave it on. Slice each one diagonally down the middle and carve out the middle part of the courgette so as you are left with a little boat-like shape to fill. Keep the middle carved out part as you will add this later to your filling. Brush the entire courgette pieces with olive oil.
Finely chop what is leftover from the carved out part and set aside for your filling.
Usually I use a meat ragu (used in lasagne or bolognese) to fill the courgettes, but you can also stuff them with raw meat patties and then cook, obviously this would mean longer in the oven. Personally I prefer mine with a rich tasting ragu as they are often served in a rich tomato sauce anyway.
To make the meat filling you will need a deep pot. Heat the pot and put in your minced beef without adding oil allowing it to cook in its own juices. By heating the pot first you will ensure that you lock in that flavour of the meat and don’t cook off the fat. When the meat is half cooked add your chopped onions and garlic and stir, then add your courgette pieces and stir until the meat is fully cooked.
Add in your chopped tomatoes or passata and stir. You only want to add enough to make a thick pasted sauce for the mince, not something that is a runny as a bolognese sauce. Add in the cup of wine and let the alcohol burn off.
Add the freshly chopped basil and some freshly cracked pepper and some grated Parmesan cheese and stir. Leave this to sit for around an hour or better overnight to get a rich tasting ragu.
Add in the breadcrumbs, enough to make the mixture a little pasty and mix well.
Fill the courgettes generously with the filling. Push down to make a neat smooth filling. Grate some Parmesan cheese on top.
Bake the zucchine ripiene in baking tray in a pre-heated oven on 180 degrees until the cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs are golden, the courgettes should have softened now also. This usually takes around 15-20 mins.
If you are serving this as a main, serve with a dollop of creamy mashed potato.