Polenta-Stuffed Zucchini

Polenta-Stuffed Zucchini
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stuffed squash

Another for the soon-to-be-bulging “zucchini files,” the other day we made a polenta-stuffed zucchini. At first glance, that might seem fairly straightforward; however, we added a slight twist, using what we thought was a pretty neat idea we saw in Great Chefs Cook Vegan, edited and photographed by Linda Long. It’s filled with great ideas for presentation, plus some pretty good-sounding recipes. And, when the title says great chefs, it means it, since it seems as if all the famous modern chefs have recipes included there.

The idea for this recipe came from a recipe that involved making stuffed “zucchini boxes” by shaving the squash into thin, wide strips, blanching it, and then using the strips to line a mold that was filled with a zucchini and tomato stuffing. It looked amazing. We knew that our version wouldn’t look like one produced by a famous chef, but we thought that we’d at least try the technique.

Polenta Stuffed Zucchini

Yield: 12 stuffed "squash"

Polenta Stuffed Zucchini


  • 3 heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs finely minced onion
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) grated Cheddar cheese
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbs fresh basil (preferred) or 2 Tbs dried

Abbreviated Instructions

Bring a large kettle of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, cut an "X" in the bottom of each tomato, and use a vegetable peeler to shave off wide slices of zucchini, avoiding the center containing the seeds.

When the water is boiling, working with one tomato at a time, use a slotted spoon to lower the tomato into the boiling water. Remove after 10 seconds and transfer to a colander. Cool immediately with cold running water. Once all tomatoes are cool, peel, and core. Set aside.

With the same boiling water, blanch the zucchini strips for 60 seconds, then drain into a colander and cool with cold running water. Set aside while you make the polenta.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment.

Melt butter In a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add onion and garlic, and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.

Add cornmeal, and cook, stirring continuously, until the cornmeal smells like toasted corn, about 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water and cook, stirring continuously, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Add cheese and stir until melted. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Line a custard cup with zucchini slices, allowing the ends of the strips to overhang the edges. Fill halfway with polenta, then fold the strips back over to seal. Carefully invert to release, then place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat. You should have enough zucchini and polenta to make 12 packets.

Bake for 30 minutes to ensure they're heated through.

Meanwhile, dice tomatoes, and use a circular form to make rings of diced tomato on the plates. Sprinkle with basil, and place a packet on top.


Ingredient discussion:

Since this is more of a technique than a recipe, we’ll focus on making the squash packets. You should realize that while we give a recipe for a Cheddar polenta, you could use pretty much anything for the stuffing. That said, if you do decide on polenta for a filling, try to find a coarse stone-ground cornmeal. It’ll provide better texture.

Procedure in detail:

Boil salted water. We’re going to use this water for two things. First, we’ll use it to peel the tomatoes before dicing them; that way, you won’t have some of the tomato dice with skins and some without. Now, normally, we would care enough to boil water for just the tomatoes,  but we’ll also use it to blanch the squash, so might as well. So, bring 2 to 3 quarts of salted water to a boil. How much salt? We used several tablespoons.

tomato about to be peeled
If you need to peel tomatoes, cut and “X” in the bottom and lower into boiling water for 10 seconds.

Peel and core tomatoes. Cut an “X” in the bottom of each tomato, and, when the water is boiling, lower a single tomato into the water using a slotted spoon. Let it boil in the water for 10 seconds, no longer, and remove to a colander. Run cold water over the tomato to stop the cooking. Repeat with the other tomatoes. When the tomatoes are cool, the peels should just slide off. Use a paring knife to remove the core from the stem end of the tomato. Set aside until you’ll be plating the squash packets.

peeled tomato
Once cooled, the skin will just slip right off. Use a paring knife to remove the core.
blanching squash
Blanching the squash keeps it from discoloring while you work with it. It also makes it more flexible and easier to shape.

Slice and blanch squash. Use a vegetable peeler to shave off strips of zucchini, avoiding the center with all the seeds. The seeded center will fall apart while boiling, so you’ll need to think of another use for it. Once you’ve made all the zucchini strips you can, lower them into the boiling salted water and let cook for 60 seconds. Drain in a colander and stop the cooking by running cold water over the squash strips as you move them about. Drain completely and set aside while you make the polenta.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat (preferred) or parchment. We suggest a baking mat because that will insulate the bottom of the squash packets and help prevent burning.

Cook onion and garlic. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the onions and garlic and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.

adding water
Once the cornmeal is toasted, add the water while stirring continuously so you don’t get lumps.

Add cornmeal. Add the cornmeal and stir until it’s coated with butter. Continue to stir and cook until the cornmeal starts to smell like toasted or roasted corn, about 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and stir until smooth. Continue cooking, stirring continuously, until the cornmeal thickens, about 15 minutes. For this recipe, the polenta will bake a bit, so you don’t have to stir it until it’s super thick, just until it resembles a stiff batter.

adding cheese
Finally, add the cheese for flavor. We used Cheddar, but any strong-flavored cheese you like will work.

Add cheese. Stir in the cheese, and, once melted, remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

making a squash packet
Fold the overhanging squash strips over the polenta, sealing it inside.

Fill custard cup. Place strips of zucchini in a custard cup or other small shallow cup, leaving the ends of the squash strips hanging over the edge. You want to use enough strips to completely cover the custard cup so the polenta won’t leak out. Fill halfway with polenta and fold the overhanging squash over the polenta, pressing it down slightly to smooth. Carefully invert the custard cup and remove the squash packet, placing it on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining squash and polenta.

squash packet
Ready for baking!

Bake. Slide into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until heated through.

making a tomato ring
We used a large biscuit cutter to make a circle of tomatoes; it never hurts to take the extra minute or two to make dinner look nice.

Plate. While the squash packets are baking, dice the tomato, and, using a ring (we used a biscuit cutter, but almost anything would do, including a well-washed tuna can with the top and bottom removed), form a circle of tomato dice on each plate. Dust with basil. When the squash packets are done, use a spatula to place one on each circle of tomatoes.

We really liked the idea of using zucchini as a wrapper; it just looks elegant. Although, next time we’ll make a filling with a bit more flavor, perhaps a risotto instead of polenta. With the mild squash and the mild polenta, dinner was a little on the bland side. The fresh tomatoes helped, but it wasn’t quite enough to make anything really stand out. We guess that we’ll give five stars for the novel squash idea, and three for the bland taste, averaging out to four stars.

Worth the trouble?

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