It is only recently that I have to really started to appreciate and incorporate zucchini into my diet. When I still ate wheat zucchini bread was alway my favorite. However I never really enjoyed it in it’s raw form.
The start of my love of summer squashes and zucchini started two summers ago when I was at the Spokane Farmer’s market. They had this strange small green looking pumpkin type squash for sale in July. I asked the guy what it was and he said it’s a zapallito squash from South America.
He then added it’s really good - you should try it. Which is basically what I’m going to tell all of you to do. The last two summers all I did was cut it up and grill it or sautéed it. Both were ridicioulsy delicious.
This little squash (and you do want to buy it in it’s immature stage) has the taste and texture of zucchini but it’s just a little more dense and little sweeter. Native to South America, it is often found in savory tarts, omelettes, roasted, or stuffed in Argentina. However the favorite dish in South America using this squash is called Mianesas de Zapallito. Translated to lightly breaded and pan fried.
When buying this squash or any squash at the farmer’s market make sure the outside has an unblemished, glossy, smooth skin. They should feel heavier then they look. If there is deep gashes or soft spots look for another.
All of these squashes store well in the fridge loosely wrapped in plastic for up to a week.
This year I wanted to try something besides just roasting the zapallitos. A favorite dish in Argentina is Zapallitos Rellenos. A stuffed squash. They often stuff it with beef and top with cheese. Which sounds awesome to me. However, I know that I have quite a few vegetarians that read this blog so I figured I would make Zapallitos Rellenos two ways. Black bean or Beef.
The main concern when cooking any summer squash is the water content. It is high in squash. So in order to not make your dishes mushy there is a little prep ahead of time. Next time, I’ll talk more about prepping zucchini for sautéing.
Stuffed Zapalitto Squash: Two Ways
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
For the stuffed zapallitos squash you must first boil them whole. For about 12 minutes. I first read about doing this in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 2 and I thought that sounded ridiculous. (Side note: If you want some zucchini recipes that look amazing, full of fat and totally not good for you. Check out her book.)
Boiling whole is must before cutting the squash in half, digging out the inner stuff and stuffing with some good yummy stuff!
In a large pot with heavily salted water boil the zapallitos for about 12 to 14 minutes. Don't worry they will not melt or disengrate. Unless you leave them in to long. I didn't try it but is seems like that might happen.
After the 12 to 14 minutes remove the zapallitos and place on a plate to cool before slicing in half.
Next, take a knife and slice around the inside edge. I found that there is a nice ring around the inside to cut. There should be about 1/4 of an inch of squash still intact.
With a spoon dig out the pulp. Drain as much water as you can out of the pulp. Pick out as many seeds as you can and then dice. Set aside.
Place the halves down on a plate so more moisture can drain.
To save on time I tend to make the rice and the stuffing while the zapallitos are cooking.
First the rice:
Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add the 1 cup of rice along with a pinch of salt.
Reduce the heat, cover and cook until the rice is done.
While the rice is cooking I make the cilantro and garlic sauce in my small blender. Add the 1/2 cup of cilantro with 1 garlic clove and 4 tablespoons of water. Blend until smooth.
Once the rice is finished fluff and combine with the cilantro and garlic sauce. Set aside.
To prepare the beef mixture you'll need to brown the ground beef in a large skillet over medium/high heat.
Once the beef is browned remove and set aside.
Place the red onion and jalapeño in the skillet and cook for 5 minutes.
Next add the green pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.
Then the cumin. Cook 30 seconds.
Add the beef back to the pan along with the rice and pulp. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To prepare the black bean mixture start by adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet.
Place the jalapeño and red onion and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the green pepper. Cook for 2 minutes. Then add the kale until it is slightly wilted.
Add the cumin. Cook 30 seconds.
Remove from the heat and toss with the black beans, the rice and pulp in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Next comes the stuffing! Blot the zapallito halves with a paper towel. Trying to remove as much moisture as possible.
Lightly spray a cookie sheet with olive oil.
Place the zapallitos on the cookie sheet and stuff with your stuffing of choice. Top with the shredded cheese.
Bake for about 20 minutes. The tops should be a golden brown. Let cool slightly and enjoy!
A couple of notes:
In two weeks we will explore the different types of common summer squash. Plus a fantastic zucchini recipe and guidelines on how to cook zucchini.