The zucchini is one of my favourite vegetables, except that it's a fruit. (Oh, not that debate again.) Not only are they fruit, but they also have a different name depending where you are in the world. In some places they are summer squash, while in others they are courgettes. I once had something like this fractured conversation with someone who misheard, asking "Did you say Corvettes?" Nice. They grow fast. Shame they're not red, because then you'd have little red courgettes.
I like the little white ones best. They're called white, but they are pale mottled green. Their flesh is delicate and they are good sliced and boiled with chopped onion and a little butter and a dash of nutmeg and salt and pepper. In the following recipe they support sardines in a dish which combines the characteristic strong flavour of the fish with the warm earthiness of the rice-filled zucchini, accentuated with the tang of lemon juice. Kind of Sicilian, I suppose.
Stuffed zucchinis with sardines.
Slice half a dozen white zucchinis in half lengthwise and scoop out the centre pulp (reserve), to make 12 zucchini boats (yes, we’ve switched transport modes).
Cook the rice. (I used Arborio but you can use any other rice, or barley. Or even risoni.) If using arborio, cook with oil, garlic, stock and white wine in the usual way. Add the zucchini flesh and two tablespoons of tomato paste, or substitute puree or diced tomatoes. It’s all much the same. Add a little dried basil and pepper. Salt if not using stock. Chili if you want a little warmth.
Fill the boats to just above deck level with the cooked rice. Set them close together in a shallow baking dish, place a sardine on top of each, pour some tomato puree and a little white wine around the zucchinis up to the plimsoll line, squeeze a good-sized lemon over the whole thing and put it in the oven to bake slowly, covered.
The zucchinis will be fragile when they come out of the oven. Rest them a few minutes then carefully lift them onto volcanoes of polenta on serving plates, pour some of the liquid over the zucchinis and the polenta, and accompany with spinach or other green cooked with white wine, plenty of garlic, pepper and cream and perhaps a dash of chili.
The flavour will swamp most of today's prissy acidic white wines. Go against prevailing wine wisdom and drink a big red. It used to be said that fish would kill the red; now that red wines are averaging 14% alcohol it's more likely to be the reverse. Sicilians probably accompany it with grappa. One year when I was in my early twenties, I had a Sicilian migrant landlord who made grappa in a huge laboratory under his house. He used to share it with me. It must have been about 200 proof, if that's possible. You could power a Corvette with it.
A note on sardines: I used canned sardines in oil - any branded can is generally OK. The sardines can't read the label. I think they were Brunswick but they might have been King Oscar. The unbranded ones might or might not be a step lower in quality. When we fostered greyhounds five and more years ago I used to buy the no name ones at about 69 cents a can as a daily tonic for the 'hounds that came to us with poor coats. They went back to the adoption program sleek and glistening.