Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Forgotten Grain

Although going to the farmers market and picking out a truckload of vegetables is fun stuff, the best part comes when you get home, and then have to decide what to do with all the things you just bought. Some of my loot from this week was best suited to raw munching or to being tossed casually in a salad, but one item in particular was calling out for a more involved preparation.

The eight ball zucchini from Monday's farmers market are perfect vegetables for stuffing. Although plenty of recipes exist for stuffed zucchini, these orb-shaped wonders are much more amenable to being stuffed given their bowl-like shape when cut in half. Now, I must say that the idea of stuffing vegetables is something of a mystery to me. Although it looks lovely, I can never quite understand why one wouldn't just serve the "stuffing" alongside a perfectly roasted vegetable and call it a meal. Does stuffing really add that much?

In the case of today's recipe, I'd say that the primary advantages of stuffing over side-by-side serving are presentation and ease of consumption. If you buy small squash, a stuffed one might make a lovely little appetizer, perfect for a party. However, the filling would go equally well alongside simply roasted or grilled squash if you happened to not be in a stuffing mood.

For this particular recipe, I chose to use an ingredient that is often overlooked in most kitchens: millet. Yes, millet. Although it is healthy and tasty, millet is often relegated to the realm of bird food. Even its name seems to evoke something drab and tasteless; it has neither the exotic air of quinoa nor the pretension of farro. Humble millet, though, is actually the perfect grain to use for stuffing. The grains cook relatively quickly, and are soft and just sticky enough to adhere to one another, obviating the need for binding agents like eggs. I also love the flavor of millet. It is mild but slightly sweet and nutty, and goes well with both sweet and savory accompaniments. If you've never tried millet before, this is your big chance. It also works well (uncooked) in breads and muffins, adding a pleasing crunch and flavor.

My millet-stuffed zucchini turned out to be one of those fridge-cleaning type of recipes, but the flavors went so well together that I will certainly be using this particular combination again soon. The broccoli was a last-minute decision, but was really sweet and wonderful with white wine and vinegar. The goat cheese, too, adds just the right balance of creamy richness and tang, especially when combined with the pine nuts.

A few warnings: I only purchased two small eight ball zucchini at the market, so I had an overabundance of stuffing (which I ate on its own). However, it is probably enough for at least 4 whole zucchini (8 halves), and possibly six. The zucchini I saw at the market ranged in size from golf balls other kinds of balls that are bigger than tennis balls but smaller than bowling balls, so that's a factor, too. I highly recommend seeking out some eight balls for this recipe, because of the stuffing-friendly shape, but flavor-wise, they are about the same as regular old zucchini. Oh, and the scallions: I happened to have a glut of them, so tossed them into the mix. The dish would probably be fine with just the sweet onion, though.

Finally, I prepared the zucchini by roasting them before stuffing, as I really dislike big chunks of uncooked zucchini. Roast cut-side up, until the bottoms are browned but not so much that they are falling apart. The seeded flesh should slip out relatively easily with the help of a spoon, creating a little well for the millet stuffing. This recipe is truly greater than the sum of its parts, and makes a perfect appetizer or light lunch or dinner. And, even if you don't try this exact recipe, at least try the millet - it's a great addition to any whole grain repertoire.

Millet-Stuffed Eight Ball Zucchini

4-6 eight ball (round) zucchini
8-10 small scallions, white and light green parts only
1 c. uncooked millet
~2 c. water
1 sweet onion, such as vidalia, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs. pine nuts, toasted
~2 c. broccoli, chopped into small pieces
1 oz. goat cheese
1/4 c. white wine
splash of balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning, to taste


Cut zucchini in half, and place cut side up in a roasting pan along with scallions. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast at 400 F for about 20 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Meanwhile, prepare stuffing. In a saucepan, saute half of the onion with the garlic in a bit of olive oil until wilted. Season, then add millet and cook for a minute or so. Add water, bring to a boil, and turn heat to low. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until water is absorbed and millet is soft and fluffy. Cool millet in a large mixing bowl. In a saute pan, heat a bit of oil and saute remaining onion with broccoli. Season with salt and pepper. Add white wine and cook until onion is soft and broccoli is beginning to brown. Add broccoli mixture to millet, along with toasted pine nuts and goat cheese. Chop the roasted scallions, if using, and add those, too. When zucchini is cool enough to handle, scoop out seeded flesh with a spoon. Roughly chop the flesh and add it to the stuffing. Season stuffing with spices and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and stir to combine. Spoon stuffing into zucchinis and return to the oven for a few minutes, so that the tops are golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment! I've been wanting to start a food blog forever. I love yours - your pictures are gorgeous! I'm not that good with the pictures yet - I spend forever trying to get just one good shot.

My brother is in Boston and he hasn't found good pizza yet. :) I'm going to go look up your New Haven pizza post!