It is almost ridiculous how much I love having a garden. As a kid and young teen, I put on a serious sulk every time I had to do anything in the garden, and my dad gradually shrunk our huge garden and fruit orchard each year to make it more manageable as he realized he was the one doing the lion’s share of the work while his 5 daughters spent their time scattering at the sight (or imagined sound) of bees.
Now, any day it’s not actively raining, I’m actually eager to get outside and check on the progress of things and remove any weeds that might take up precious space and nutrients. I love watching the kids marvel at all the things growing, discovering just how much better a strawberry or carrot tastes straight out of the dirt, and it’s something where I can genuinely share their same level of youthful enthusiasm (I struggle to match their love of dandelions, rocks, and sprinklers on trampolines). We started small this year, but hope to gradually take over more and more of our front yard to fill our table.
This outside time in our front garden also means way more biking time for the kids, as I’m only okay with the littler ones biking if I’m outside, and I’m only okay with the bigger ones biking when the little ones are also outside so I don’t have to deal with the sadness of their being left behind in the backyard. So many reasons to love gardening :)
The most rewarding plant to grow here? Zucchini. Over the course of a week, zucchini can grow from barely-there to the size of a hefty thigh (not that I’m comparing), so regular check-ins are crucial. The big ones are too wet and seedy for my liking, so I like to catch them at the smaller size, perfect for baking with, slicing for grilled vegetables, or stuffing with goodness and serving as a zucchini boat. I can finally be the person giving away zucchini instead of the person taking it, or cringing to pay actual money for it at the grocery store.
I first had zucchini boats at my younger sister’s house a couple years ago, and have since made a few variations, with pizza and taco fillings being our favourites. This filling was basically taco rice, except I made it with a quinoa and farro blend in place of rice since I’m not really a fan of rice (read: I’m lousy at making rice). Using this filling means the non-zucchini fans can eat the extra taco rice rolled up in a wrap or on a bun, Sloppy Joe style, while the rest of us can enjoy the boats without listening to complaints. You can easily make this with all meat and no rice, or ground turkey or chicken instead of beef, or all grains and no meat at all…it’s going to taste pretty much the same :).
I’ve learned a couple things in my zucchini boat attempts that I feel obliged to pass on before sharing the recipe.
- Pre-bake the boats. I’ve had underdone zucchini too many times while the filling is getting over-cooked, so this time I put the zucchini in while I prepared the filling to give it time to soften, and it worked like a charm.
- Season the boats. Zucchini doesn’t have a lot of flavour on its own, and that sprinkle of salt and extra cheese under the filling makes all the difference.
- Knife and fork it. You were probably going to anyway, but in case you were thinking of picking it up and going for it pizza-style…the zucchini juice that will trickle down your chin will burrrrrn. Probably. I think. Who knows.
And that’s all there is to it! Enjoy :)
- 4 small/medium zucchinis
- Seasoning salt or garlic salt
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 small onion, diced
- ½ a red bell pepper, diced
- 2 cups cooked rice, quinoa, farro, or similar grain
- 1 (30-g) pkg taco seasoning
- ½ cup diced tomatoes
- ¼ cup water
- ⅓ cup salsa
- Crumbled tortilla chips
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Sour cream (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Halve zucchinis lengthwise, then use a spoon to scrape out the center seedy part, leaving a solid zucchini base for your filling. If zucchinis are too wobbly, cut a bit of skin off the bottom to help them sit level.
- Lay zucchini halves out in a single layer on lightly greased baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with seasoning salt or garlic salt, then sprinkle with a layer of shredded cheese. Place in preheating oven for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in large non-stick skillet, fry beef with onions and peppers until beef is browned and onions are soft. Drain any extra grease.
- Stir in rice, taco seasoning, water and salsa, adding more salsa and salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove zucchini from oven and divide the taco mixture over the centers of your prepared zucchini halves, packing it in well (you might have some leftover). Top with crumbled tortilla chips and shredded cheese and return to oven for additional 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and zucchini are tender when poked with a fork.
- Serve hot, with sour cream if desired. Leftovers also reheat well.