Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.

Stuffed vegetables

An easy way to get rid of those extra vegetables — zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and squash — and make a hearty meal is to stuff them.

There’s a meme that usually goes around in August that says something like, “Don’t leave your car unlocked this time of year, otherwise people will start leaving zucchini in it!” Years ago, when I was a child, my father dug a vegetable garden at our summer home, and very soon thereafter a cookbook appeared on the shelf: "Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, and Other Good Things: A Cookbook for When Your Garden Explodes."

The thing is, with zucchini, you can end up with too many zucchini, and also zucchini that were hiding under the leaves and escaped notice until they became too big and too full of seeds. For those enormous ones, I will remove most of the large seeds, shred the "meat" of the squash, and make zucchini bread. If I’m short on time, I will sometimes squeeze out as much liquid from the shredded zucchini as possible and freeze it in individual freezer bags in 1-cup quantities so I can make zucchini bread in the winter, whenever the mood strikes. (If you do this, allow the zucchini to defrost in a colander so that any excess liquid that has accumulated from freezing can drain.)

For now, though, for the zucchini that have not gotten too big, I like to make a meal of various stuffed vegetables. Possibilities include not only zucchini, but also summer squash, eggplant, bell peppers and tomatoes. It’s an extremely versatile recipe and you can satisfy both meat eaters and vegetarians or vegans easily. I like to combine the chopped pulp from hollowing out the squash and some of the other vegetables with cubed bread and sausage, but you can certainly use vegan sausage, substitute other chopped vegetables, such as mushrooms, or increase the bread to make enough stuffing. I also include grated Parmesan, but that’s entirely optional if you want a plant-based dish.

Whether you have your own garden, belong to a CSA, or frequent local farm stands or farmers markets during the summer, grab a bunch of veggies and give this a try!

STUFFED ZUCCHINI AND OTHER THINGS

Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS

(Amounts here are for 3 zucchini, 1 eggplant, 1 pepper, and 1 tomato; adjust amounts as needed):

2 (or more) medium zucchini or a combination of zucchini, eggplant, and summer squash

1 (or more) bell pepper, optional

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 (or more) firm tomato, optional

1 small onion, diced

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 Italian sausages removed from the casing (vegan sausage possible)

1 cup bread cubes, preferably from sturdy loaf, in 1/4-1/2 inch cubes (you can use more bread if omitting sausage altogether)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan (omit for vegan)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a half sheet pan with foil for easier clean up. Trim the ends of the zucchini (or eggplant or summer squash) and cut in half lengthwise. Use a melon baller or small spoon to scoop out most of the pulp, leaving a ½-inch shell. Reserve the pulp. If using, cut the bell pepper in half through the stem and remove and discard the ribs and seeds.

Place the hollowed-out vegetables cut side up on the foil-lined pan. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Turn cut side down and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, if using, cut a small bit off the top of the tomato. Scoop the pulp out, discard the seeds, chop the flesh into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Set the tomato shell upside down on a piece of paper towel to drain. Finely chop the reserved pulp from the hollowed-out vegetables and add to the bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoon oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering and fragrant. Add onion, remaining salt, oregano, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Sauté until the onion is softened and beginning to brown. Add to the bowl with the chopped vegetable pulp. Add the sausage meat, bread, and Parmesan to the bowl and mix to combine thoroughly.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and turn over so that they are cut side up. If using, place the tomato on the foil lined tray, cut side up. Using a small spoon, divide the filling among the vegetables, pressing into the cavities gently so as not to break or crush the vegetable shells.

Return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.