While I’m still in denial that it’s not summer anymore, there are signs abound this week that will likely require me to accept the seasonal fate soon. The “official” start of winter is just around the corner after all, so I suppose I should acknowledge at least a week of Autumn before then. 🙂
Haley (our pooch) seems to be in denial as well…on walks she runs around like a maniac tracking bunnies while paying no attention to the fact that it’s so cold her owners could turn into icicles at any moment. She has also failed to notice the disappearance of the 8 foot cherry tomato
plants trees from our front steps. You see, just like the humans of this house, she got quite accustomed to the abundance of tiny, juicy, flavorful, red and orange balls we used to pluck from the vines each day this summer–in fact, she would refuse to enter the house without eating one after each walk. Sadly, it’s been 8 weeks since our last tomato harvest, but we did manage to save a bunch of green ones and bring them inside in hopes they would eventually turn. Amazingly, many of them did, and like the loving dog owners we are…we saved every last one for Haley. The stash is almost gone now, and when I opened the fridge the other day, I also discovered we were down to the last of one of our other favorite summer staples: zucchini.
Now I’m not talking about just your average dark green, oblong summer squash (although we love those too). No sir…our most hearty little gem of the garden this year was billiard zucchini. What is that, you ask? Billiard (commonly referred to as 8-ball) zucchini are a round, hybrid variety that is perfect for stuffing (like peppers), stir-fry, soup, kabobs, or any other recipe that calls for summer squash. They come in a number of colors (pale green, dark green, goldenrod yellow and variegated) and are prime to harvest when 3-4 inches in diameter. Their flavor and texture is similar to traditional zucchini, however, the flesh of a billiard is a little stiffer and therefore holds up better when cooked. I believe it is the dense flesh that also allows this particular variety of squash to keep longer than most after being harvested (hence why 8 weeks later, we still have some).
I decided to make an Italian brown rice pasta the other night for dinner, and I wanted to make something to accompany it. Our usual go-to for such a meal would be garlic bread, but I thought I’d change things up a bit and keep things mostly gluten-free. I opened up the fridge to see what we had on hand and spotted a little green billiard zucchini that looked like he was yearning to be chopped and eaten. So, I obliged and turned him into the perfect side for our pasta: Spicy Italian Billiard Zucchini Boats!
Many of you may have seen the traditional long, skinny zucchini used as similar vessels, but billiards are the perfect size for finger food and they hold up well when they’re cooked, providing a nice crunch when you bite into them. I made similar batches of these boats this summer on the grill when we had billiard zucchinis and tomatoes coming out of our ears, but I hadn’t yet developed the recipe for my Southwestern Red Pepper Pesto, which I love the addition of in this recipe. These could certainly be made without the pesto, but it really turns the flavor up a notch (plus it’s a fantastic condiment to have on hand)! This is a really quick, easy recipe and is not only a great side dish, but makes for an awesome vegetarian appetizer (served with marinara sauce for dipping) as well!
It makes me sad to think I will have to wait all the way until next summer to enjoy these delicious little boats again, and you may be wondering why I chose to share this recipe now instead of then. Well…these boats could certainly be made with traditional zucchini (which can likely still be found at your local supermarket), but I also wanted to give you time to prepare for when billiards are in season. You see, these little round squash don’t often make an appearance in the produce aisle at the nearby grocer, so you may need to seek them out at farmer’s markets or CSAs. You could put in a request with your local suppliers now or even better yet…get some seeds and grow them yourself! They are a bush variety, so you won’t need a lot of space or a giant trellis like cucumbers and vine zucchini require, and they can even be grown in containers/pots (as I grew them this year)! If you don’t think you have the space or have never grown your own food before, allow me to squash (pun intended) your concerns because growing something like these zucchini is extremely easy and it doesn’t require much of your time or space (I used to grow things on the balcony of a 599 square foot apartment, so I’m telling ya…you’ve got this). Plus, it’s extremely rewarding and so much cheaper than buying everything at the store/market, and if you’re like me and prefer to eat organically, there’s no better way to know your produce is without chemicals than to grow it yourself! If you’re looking for added encouragement, check out a few of these books that will help you get started:
Spicy Italian Billiard Zucchini Boats
- 1 billiard zucchini (3-4" diameter)
- 1 tomato medium variety (i.e. roma/on the vine)
- 1 jalapeño, minced (optional)
- 2 Tbsp Southwestern Red Pepper Pesto
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil, sliced into chiffonade, divided in half
- 1½ tsp fresh oregano, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper, freshly cracked
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, shredded + divided in half
- 1 Tbsp Italian bread crumbs (optional, omit if gluten free)
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Slice the stem off the top of the zucchini and trim a little off the bottom (remove as little edible flesh as possible). Then cut the zucchini in half from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds and soft pulp using a spoon (this will leave 2 hollow zucchini "bowls"). Cut each half into 4 equal wedges (8 boats).
- Spread thin layers of grated garlic and pesto on the inside of each boat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, oregano, and half of the basil. Divide the minced jalapeno between boats and use half of the Parmesan to cover each boat with cheese.
- Cut the tomato into 8 slices and cut each slice in half (for a total of 16 pieces). Place 2 tomato pieces on each zucchini boat, sprinkle the remaining parmesan and bread crumbs on top and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
- Place boats on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for ~12 minutes (flesh should be tender, but not mushy). Then broil the boats for 2-3 minutes until tops are golden brown (watch closely to make sure they don't burn).
- Remove from oven, garnish with remaining basil, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil if desired.
- Cherry tomatoes work really well for this in place of a larger tomato. 8 cherry tomatoes can be sliced into thirds, and 3 pieces used on each zucchini boat.
- Crumbled Italian sausage or chopped pepperoni would be a great addition!
- If you can't find a billiard zucchini, you can use 2 small standard zucchinis, cut in half lengthwise, and then cut in half crosswise to make them similar in size to the billiard wedges (and easy finger food).
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