about 3 dozen vegetable morsels
Italians will stuff just about any vegetable with either bread or meat, and stuffed vegetables are a favorite along the Italian peninsula. A platter of baked stuffed vegetables is one of those delights that you see in many restaurants as you travel around Italy, but the array is never exactly the same, with vegetable favorites varying from region to region. There are many ways to stuff an Italian vegetable, but this recipe is one of my favorites. Here I give you this delicious and easy bread stuffing, along with procedures for preparing and baking a few of the most typical vegetables—bell peppers, mushrooms, sweet onions, tomatoes, and zucchini. I’ve kept the amount of vegetables loose, so you can make as many as you want and you can change the vegetables according to season, becoming a new recipe every time.
- For the stuffing
- 4 cups 1-inch cubes of day-old or dry country bread, crusts removed (about 4 thick slices)
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ ounce dried porcini (about ¼ cup loosely packed pieces), soaked in 2 cups warm water
- 1 cup finely chopped scallions
- 10 large fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- ½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- for the vegetable assortment
- 2 or more medium zucchini (6 inches long)
- 2 or more red or other colorful bell peppers
- 12 or more large white stuffing mushrooms
- 3 or more ripe small tomatoes
- 2 or more large Vidalia or other sweet, flat onions
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- butter for the baking dishes
- ½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano
To make the stuffing: Pour the milk over the bread cubes; toss well and let sit for a couple of minutes. When softened, gather and press the cubes together, squeezing out any excess milk, and return the moistened bread to the dry bowl, tearing it into shreds with your fingers.
Lift the rehydrated porcini pieces from the soaking liquid, squeeze firmly (saving all the liquid), and chop them into fine bits. Scatter the chopped porcini, scallions, basil, grated cheese, and 1 teaspoon salt on top of the torn bread, and toss to combine. Stir in the beaten eggs with a wooden spoon (or mix with your hands) to form a well-blended, fairly dense stuffing.
To prepare zucchini for stuffing: Trim off the ends, and slice the squashes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the central pulp and any seeds with a teaspoon or melon-baller, so each half resembles a hollowed boat. Cut the long halves crosswise into serving-sized pieces, about 3 inches long.
To prepare the bell peppers for stuffing: slice them lengthwise in half, starting at the stem, or in thirds if very large; trim away the stem and all seeds and fibers, forming cuplike pieces.
To prepare the mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions: Pull out the stems of the mushrooms, leaving the hollow caps for stuffing. Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise, and squeeze out the seeds to make concavities for stuffing. Peel the onions, and cut them crosswise into ¾-inch- thick slices.
When all the vegetables are prepped and all but onions are hollowed, put the pieces (except the onion slices) in a large bowl. Toss with the olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Brush some of the oil on the onion slices, keeping them whole.
To stuff and bake the vegetables: Butter the baking dishes, arrange a rack (or two, if necessary) in the oven, and heat to 425 degrees. For the zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms, fill the cavities with about a tablespoon of stuffing and arrange all the pieces in a baking dish, with a bit of space between them. Lay the onion slices flat in the dish, and mound a spoonful of stuffing on top of each slice.
When the dishes are filled (but not crowded), sprinkle all the vegetable pieces evenly with the grated cheese and remaining teaspoon salt. Scrape any olive oil left in the vegetable bowl over the stuffed pieces, and pour the reserved porcini-soaking liquid (leaving behind any gritty residue) into the bottom of each baking dish. Cover each dish with a tent of foil, pressing it against the dish sides; make sure the foil doesn’t touch the stuffing or tops of the vegetables.
Bake 30 minutes, until the vegetables have started to soften and release juices, then remove the foil tents and bake until the stuffing is crispy and brown, another 30 minutes or so. Switch the position of the dishes in the oven once or twice so all the pieces cook and color evenly. Serve hot from the oven, or let the vegetables cool and serve at room temperature.