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Stuffed Zucchini with Ground Beef and Rice

Serves 4

I really do love stuffed vegetables, such as summer squash, eggplant and peppers. This recipe is healthy and delicious and, although it takes a little time to prepare, very easy. The stuffing can be prepared ahead and refrigerated until needed. Any summer squash can be used, as well as other ground meats, such as turkey. I usually grow fresh thyme and marjoram during the summer which I use instead of the dried. However, dried works well in this recipe. For something a little different and equally delicious, see the zucchini with turkey stuffing in the similar and related recipes.

Ingredients

Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a 10-inch, preferably nonstick, skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and sauté until lightly browned, about 3 minutes, breaking apart as browning. Add the onions, red peppers, 1/2 teaspoon marjoram, salt and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, rinse and dry the zucchini. Remove the stem end and cut in half, end-to-end. Using a spoon or a melon baller, remove some of the inside flesh to form a boat, leaving about 1/4-inch of flesh on all sides. (Reserve removed flesh for another use, or chop and add to the beef and vegetables as they sauté.)

Preheat oven to 400° F. Lightly oil the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. To finish the stuffing, place the cooked rice and ground beef mixture in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce, 2 teaspoons of the marjoram, thyme, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Stir well to combine. Taste for seasoning.

To assemble, spread 1/2 cup of the remaining tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Place the zucchini halves in the dish, skin-side down. Divide the stuffing mixture among the zucchini halves, pressing down slightly to form mounds. Spoon the remaining 1 cup of tomato sauce over all. Sprinkle with additional salt, pepper, parsley and remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake until zucchini is tender, hot and bubbly, about 1 hour. Let set about 10 minutes, then serve.

Notes: I use brown rice for most recipes that incorporate long-grain rice because I love the nutty flavor and the healthier grain, but the choice is yours. Whatever rice you use, I suggest adding 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves, salt and pepper when cooking. That will flavor the rice which, in turn, will further enhance the flavor of the finished dish. Leftover stuffed zucchini reheats very well in the oven or microwave.