Sometimes I see something at the market that makes me toss my week's meal plan into the recesses of my bag and start from scratch. Often, it's something that I don't usually eat and never think of, but the wheels start turning and I can't be stopped.
That happened this week when I saw lovely little spheres of zucchini - often called 8-ball squash. They were simply begging to be stuffed. I'm not normally interested in summer squashes - I remember being force fed sautéed zucchini at my grandma's dinner table practically every day in the summer - but I've grown to not mind it when mixed with other foods.
These squash made a lovely and easy vegetarian main dish - for a bit of Middle Eastern flavor, the filling of onions, garlic, tomatoes and chick peas were seasoned with toasted cumin, cinnamon, a touch of red pepper, and a bit of fresh oregano. The vegetables were combined with some tiny croutons before being stuffed into the squash shells and baked. Served with crunchy roasted chick peas and an olive oil fried egg, it made for a perfect summer dinner.
The added bonus? The next day, I reheated & quartered my leftovers and stuffed them into a piece of pita. Topped with yoghurt, it made a great work lunch.
Stuffed Squash with Chick Peas
For the roasted chick peas:
1 t cumin seeds
about 1 C cooked chick peas, or ½ a can, rinsed well, drained, and patted dry
salt & pepper
For the squash:
4 medium 8-ball squash (1 ½ - 2 pounds total)
1 slice mild bread, or ¼ cup coarse breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
½ small onion, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 C cooked chick peas, or the remainder of the can used above, rinsed & drained
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch crushed red pepper
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat and toast, tossing regularly, until fragrant and lightly browned but not burnt, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a mortar or spice mill and grind.
Spread the 1 C chick peas onto a baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half of the cumin. Toss well to mix and transfer to the oven.
Roast, stirring once or twice, until the chick peas are golden brown and quite crispy, 30-45 minutes, then set aside.
Meanwhile, wash the squash well and cut the top ½ inch or so off, retaining the "hat" for baking. Using a melon baller or grapefruit spoon, hollow out the squash, leaving a wall about ⅜ inch thick all around. Reserve the squash innards, place the hats on the squash, and set aside.
If using bread, toast until very crisp and golden brown, then chop up into very small cubes; set aside.
Heat a skillet with the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onions and garlic until fragrant and translucent, then add the tomatoes and chick peas and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down, 3-5 minutes. Chop up the scooped-out squash and add it to the vegetables with the remaining cumin, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, and salt & pepper to taste.
Stir in the croutons or bread crumbs and mix well. Stuff the squash with the mixture, being careful not to pack too tightly. Mound slightly and top with the squash "hat", then transfer to a glass pie pan or baking dish. Bake at 375°F for 20-40 minutes, until the squash are tender when squeezed or poked with a sharp knife (20 minutes will produce a more tender-crisp squash).
Serve with some roasted chick peas and an olive oil fried egg, if desired.
For squash sandwiches, halve and heat pita bread. Quarter the squash and stuff in the pita with any remaining chick peas. Drizzle liberally with thick plain yoghurt and a dusting of cumin, if desired.