Easy dinner recipes: Stuff your vegetables and other fun ideas

2. Halve each squash lengthwise, and scoop out the flesh in the center with a spoon, making sure to leave enough flesh near the shell so the shells can be stuffed. Place the scooped flesh in a strainer and set aside to drain for at least 10 minutes to drain excess liquid.

3. While the squash is draining, heat a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is softened and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook until they are tender and lightly browned, an additional 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the drained squash flesh (don't worry if it is still moist, it will not be completely dry) and stir well to combine, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set the squash filling aside to cool slightly.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the squash filling, queso fresco and 1/4 cup parsley. Stir well and season with a generous 1/4 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper.

5. Divide the filling into the squash shells. Place the shells in a large baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until hot and lightly browned in spots, 25 to 35 minutes depending on the size of the squash. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon parsley and serve.

Each of 12 servings: 120 calories; 7 grams protein; 14 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 10 mg. cholesterol; 3 grams sugar; 96 mg. sodium.

GARLIC AND HERB-STUFFED TOMATOES AND ZUCCHINI

From California Cook, "Shades of Summer" by Russ Parsons and Leslie Brenner, Aug. 10, 2005

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: Salted anchovies are available at Nicole's in South Pasadena, Bay Cities in Santa Monica, Market Gourmet in Venice and Surfas in Culver City. Canned anchovies in oil may be substituted.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling (optional)

1 onion, minced (about 1 cup)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup white wine

3 tablespoons capers

Salt

1/2 pound baguette

1/4 cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped basil leaves

2 cloves garlic, chopped

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed, bones removed and chopped

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

3 (8-inch) zucchini

12 small round tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cook the olive oil and the onion in a large skillet over medium heat until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic; cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, wine, capers and one-half teaspoon salt. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

2. Trim the crusts and cut the bread into cubes. Place in a food processor or a blender with the basil and garlic and grind to fine crumbs. Pour into a bowl and stir in the anchovies and pine nuts. Set aside.

3. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise and use a melon baller to carefully remove some of the flesh from the center to make a "canoe." Leave about one-fourth inch at the sides and ends and a little more at the bottom. Season the inside with one teaspoon salt, and steam over rapidly boiling salted water until just tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Cut a slice from the top of each tomato. With the melon baller, gently remove most of the pulp. Season insides with one-fourth teaspoon salt.

5. Pour the tomato sauce into a lightly oiled 5-quart gratin dish or substitute two smaller gratin dishes. Spoon the breadcrumb mixture into the zucchini and tomatoes, mounding slightly on top. It will take 1 to 2 tablespoons for each zucchini and 2 to 3 teaspoons for each tomato. Do not press the breadcrumbs or they will become pasty when cooked. Arrange the zucchini and tomatoes in the gratin dish. Drizzle with olive oil if desired.

6. Bake until the vegetables have softened and the tops of the breadcrumbs have browned, about 30 minutes. (Time will vary for the smaller dishes, so start checking after 15 to 20 minutes.) Serve hot or at room temperature.

Each serving: 308 calories; 10 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 12 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 2 mg. cholesterol; 648 mg. sodium.

STUFFED ZUCCHINI

3 large zucchini (about 8 inches long, 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter)
 
Salt
 
1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes
 
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
 
1 pound ground pork
 
2 sprigs thyme
 
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
 
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
 
Black pepper
 
1 onion, chopped
 
2 cloves garlic, minced
 
1 cup cubed stale bread soaked in 1/2 cup milk
 
1 egg
 
2 tablespoons tomato paste
 
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
 
Trim ends of zucchini and cut into sections roughly 2 1/2 inches long. Soak in cold, lightly salted water 30 minutes.
 
Cut shallow "X" in bottom of each tomato and cook in rapidly boiling water just until peel begins to come free, about 30 seconds. Drain and rinse briefly under cold running water. Set aside to cool.
 
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in large skillet or Dutch oven. When hot, add pork and stir to break up. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pork is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add thyme, red pepper, fennel seeds and black pepper to taste and remove to bowl to cool.
 
While pork cooks, use small sharp knife or melon baller to make zucchini "cups." Remove center of each zucchini section, leaving only about 1/4 inch around sides and bottom. Stand zucchini "cups" upside down on platter to drain and chop and reserve flesh you've removed.
 
Drain most of fat from pan, but leave any browned bits that stick to bottom. Add 1/2 chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add 1 clove minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add about 1/2 of chopped zucchini flesh and cook until zucchini turns light golden, about 5 minutes. Add cooling cooked pork to zucchini mixture (discard remaining chopped zucchini or save for another use). Do not wash pan.
 
Squeeze bread dry and add to pork mixture along with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Mix thoroughly, squeezing mixture between fingers to break up bread and bind mixture together. Taste and correct seasoning. Beat in egg.
 
Lightly salt interior of zucchini cups and spoon in meat mixture. Pack as tightly as possible and mound a little on top. Smooth with spoon.
 
In same pan used to cook meat, cook remaining 1/2 onion until translucent over medium heat, adding bit of oil only if needed. Add remaining minced garlic and cook until fragrant.
 
While onion cooks, cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out seeds. Chop tomatoes coarsely and add to onion along with tomato paste. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring and scraping browned bits from bottom and side of pan, until tomatoes begin to soften and bubble, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
 
Arrange zucchini cups meat side up in bottom of roasting pan. Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees until zucchini can be pierced easily with toothpick, about 45 minutes. Remove lid, scatter cheese over top, increase heat to 450 degrees and bake until cheese melts and begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
 
Remove from oven. If tomato sauce is too liquid, remove zucchini cups to warm platter and reduce sauce over high heat until thick, about 5 minutes at most. Spoon sauce around cups on platter and serve.