I love boating. No, not the kind where I once came close to drowning because a ‘friend’ insisted on trying to teach me to water ski. Not even the kind where you cruise the Mediterranean for a week with all-included, never-ending buffets and 24-hour open bars… I’m talking Stuffed Veggies!
I’ve never found an easier way to use up surplus garden produce faster and more stylishly than Boating. Zucchini and Eggplant boats are classics and almost effortless to throw together. Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers are a little fussier, but even tastier (in my personal estimation). And they not only use a lot of surplus Veg per meal, by making the Veg the star of the dish, but can also help use up almost any kind of Meat or other Veggie leftovers.
A note on harvest timing…
When growing your own Zucchini and Eggplants, harvest them early. That is, don’t let them get to be the size of fireplace logs before cutting the stem. They’ll be almost impossible to get rid of by giving them away because they’ll intimidate potential ‘adopters’. Not only that, but they’ll taste better, be more tender, and cook faster if you take them in when they’re still relatively small. As I alluded to in previous Surplus Produce posts recently, I don’t like to cook Eggplants or Zucchini that are larger than about 3 in. / 7-8 cm in diameter. And, when you assess the magnitude of your harvest, any surplus will seem somewhat smaller and less intimidating.
Filling your Boats
I have a few basic rules for filling my Veggie Boats. The first is, use up any complementary Leftovers you have first, then round out your stuffing mixture with other flavour and textures required to create a stuffing with the overall flavour and texture you want.
For example… If I’m stuffing Zucchinis, say, I’ll start with Leftover Rice – usually from take-out Asian Food. There’s always lots of leftover Rice from ‘Chinese’ food because, when your order enough for a family, you virtually always order Fried Rice and exceed the minimum dollar amount to qualify for free delivery and free White (steamed) rice. I always plan in advance to serve one or suppers that call for leftover Rice during the week following any lazy weekend Asian order-in indulgence. You can also use all sorts of other leftovers from a stir-fry feast in Veggie Boat stuffings. The sauces and flavours will be absorbed by the Boat ‘hulls’ making the finished dish fork-tender.
The other way to go, to make sure you have leftover Rice on hand, is to schedule a meal that is served over freshly cooked Rice for one day, making extra Rice on purpose, then planning on Stuffed Veggie Boats for the second or third day after that.
Note: Cooked Rice is pretty perishable: store in tightly-covered containers in the coldest part of the fridge, for no more than three days to be safe. And be sure the stuffed Veggie Boats or other dishes you make from the leftover rice reach at least 165 F when they’re cooking or re-heating, to be sure they’re safe to eat.
The other main Veggie Stuffing Base folks use is Bread Crumbs. Leftover Turkey or Pork Roast Stuffing is great, because it’s already seasoned and flavoured.
I’ve even used Leftover Home Fries, French Fries, Hash Browns and other forms of Crispy Potatoes, chopped into 1/2 in. / 1 cm bites or smaller.
As I’ve said, almost anything can go into Stuffed Veggie Boats. I’ve already suggested Italian and Asian, but you can also go Tex-Mex / Southwestern, or Louisianan / ‘Jambalaya’, or any style of BBQ you favour.
You also want to ensure that you have enough moisture in your Boats to cook all your ingredients – especially the Boat ‘hulls’ – through. I’ve mentioned Sauces and other liquids from Leftover Stuffing ingredients. Tomato Sauce is classic for Mediterranean-style Boats. BBQ sauces and Cooking Juices from Leftover Meats you’re using in your stuffing are also great.
All Stuffed Veggie mains are generally topped with Grated Cheese and/or Bread Crumbs. Makes a nice finish and ties all the varied ingredients you’ve tossed into the stuffing together perceptually.
Bake your Stuffed Veggie Boats for about 45 min. to 1 hr. at 350 F to 375 F. – until the stuffing reaches 165 F in the centre, until the Cheese / Bread Crumbs are a beautiful Golden Brown.
It’s your family and friends, and your Leftovers and, ultimately, your boats. Float ’em however you want. And let your imagination create tasty, easy Stuffed Veggie creations you can truly call your own!
~ Maggie J.