This dish has been on my mind ever since I tried it for the first time. At work my colleagues and I have this ‘tradition’ in which each one will cook a feast for the others every 2 months. Needless to say we had fun with lots of dishes and this French classic dish has a lasting impression on me.
I’m amazed by how a dish without any kind of meat can have that tasty sweetness and how with just little salt added, the dish is great to eat with rice. For a Vietnamese like me who often eats rice with salty main and side dishes, this is a big discovery in how a dish which is seasoned so delicately can create a party of flavors with bland rice. I tried to recreate the dish for several times and now I think I found the right recipe. So today I will share with you my experience with this French homey delicacy. This dish is very simple with few ingredients, most of them vegetables, and doesn’t take much time to be cooked. It is really fitting when you’re short on time. Also this dish with its warm rich herbal, cheesy aroma will make you feel warm and refreshed in this slightly cold autumn weather. It smells like I’m having a pizza, only it's healthier.
While researching on this dish, I found many variations. You can stuff courgette with its tender meat and tomatoes only or with other added ingredients. Most of the recipes I can find also include mozzarella, onion and herbs. In this recipe I also add white mushrooms as I like to have something to chew on and because I find mushrooms, tomatoes and herbs make a great combination. Doesn’t any dish with mushrooms give you an autumn-y feeling? Let’s get started!
Ingredients: (for one serving)
1 average courgettes (choose the one that is evenly round from one end to the other)
2 small white mushrooms
¼ of an onion, about 10 gr
20 gr mozzarella
10 gr grated cheese (more or less, it depends on how thick the coverage you want to have)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small portion of butter
2 tablespoons of bread crumbs
1 pinch of salt
Herbes de Provence
The well-known mix of herbs ‘Herbes de Provence’ consists of thyme, rosemary, oregano, savory and basil, all of them give a Mediterranean flavor and smell. There is no consensus about the kind of herbs in the mix, because sometimes bay leaves, marjoram and sage are used instead of basil. However, the official version has 26% rosemary, 26% savory, 26% oregano, 19% thyme and 3% basil. This mix of herbs is optional for this dish but I find that it really elevates the taste with its aroma.
Cut each courgette in half then use a small spoon (preferably a spoon for dessert) to scoop out the tender meat inside each half. Be careful to not pierce the skin, we want all flavors and aromas to be preserved in the courgette, not leaked out. Mince the meat and set aside.
For the tomato, we will remove its skin for this dish. To do that, make a cross on the tomato. In a pot, bring water to a boil then submerge the tomato for no longer than 30 seconds. Take it out and put it in cold water for 1 minute. You can now easily remove the tomato’s skin. Remove the seeds too before cutting the tomato into cubes.
Cut the onion into cubes, the mozzarella into thin slices. For the mushrooms, cut them into chunks or in a freestyle way, as you like.
Now we take care of the courgette ‘boats’. For this dish the French use a cooking method called “blanchir”, ie “to blanch”. It’s a method they usually do for vegetables before preserving them in the freezer. It consists of bathing the vegetables in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking process. In the end you have soft partially cooked vegetables to preserve. For this stuffed courgette dish, the method has nothing to do with preserving vegetables of course. Instead this step has many purposes:
Put a pot with enough water to cover the courgette halves on high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the courgettes for 1 minute then take them out, immediately put them into a bowl of cold water for 1 minute. Put the halves on paper towel and wipe off the liquid that is left. Your courgettes are now ready to be stuffed.
Now for the filling, use a pan to stir fry the minced garlic with butter on medium-high heat. First add the courgette minced meat and let it cook for about 2 minutes then add the tomato and onion cubes and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add salt to taste and to speed up the cooking process. Stir constantly until the tomato cubes melt into a thick sauce. This step should take about 5 to 8 minutes. Add a pinch of 'Herbes de Provence' and the mushrooms, stir well. The liquid from onion and tomato ensures the filling won’t be burned on the pan, so no water is needed. When the mushrooms soften, take the pan off the heat and add bread crumbs. The bread crumbs will absorb the liquid and make the filling less runny. Alright, it’s time to stuff the boats.
Alternatively place mozzarella slices with spoonful of filling in the courgette boats until the boats are filled. Finish them off with grated cheese on top. Preheat the oven at 190 C then put the boats in for about 15 minutes. I put the courgettes on the upper part of the oven for about 5 minutes more to get the golden color from melted cheese. Your dish is now done.
Serve the stuffed courgette with rice, or not. The cheese coverage will keep the filling beneath hot for a long time. The marriage between melted cheese and soft courgette is divine, not to mention the cozy aroma and delicate sweetness from the filling will make you come back for another taste. It is that delicious!
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!