“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This quote has had many applications in my life, and in this case, it rang true again when it came to my stupid broken oven.
Here’s the deal: When I made this, John and I had just gotten back from a short but sweet (and most importantly QUIET as compared to the Blue Angels buzzing our house) camping trip to the North Cascades where we’d had a delicious dinner of burgers grilled over an open flame in softly drizzly weather. Now back at home with a bunch of summer squash from the CSA, I craved a simple dish– I’d stuff the squash with a mix of cooked Italian sausage and bake it with a cozy blanket of provolone cheese and a sweet tomato sauce. I anticipated the sweetness and crunch of vegetables (which our burger meal had otherwise lacked) but it would still have all the cheesy goodness and comfort to make up for the damp that is an inevitable component of any Northwest camping trip.
The oven, however, did not see eye to eye with me on this plan. Yes, the oven had been on the fritz for nearly a month, but fearing the costs of fixing what had alternately been proposed to me as either replacing only a $60 part or such a monstrous expense of replacing the electronic control board so that I was advised to just buy a whole new appliance, I kept putting it off. Not so entirely crazy since the oven kept resetting itself, albeit sporadically. Well, not this time. An hour passed, and the oven was still 100 degrees. With the tomato sauce and filling already prepped, there was no turning back on having stuffed squash. After my tirade venting my frustration, John started the coals for the grill.
Cooking on the grill meant that my original plan of baking the squash with sauce and cheese was no longer feasible since the sauce would just fall through the grill grate. No problem– I decided to still use the sauce, sitting it under the plated squash and instead of a layer of cheese, I went for a different kind of comfort ingredient, the textural contrast of a light sprinkle of crunchy panko crumbs. Now the one problem that remained was the amount of time that grilling further tacked on to waiting for dinner with grumbling bellies. It took us 45 minutes to get decently lit coals, and we had to wait at least another 45 minutes for the squash to cook until they were tender. It was 8:30 when we finally sat down for dinner. I was cranky at this point, tired and hungry and resenting how the lovely buzz that camping leaves me had dissipated with the whole oven issue, but my spirits quickly changed for the better once I took a bite of the squash. Here, I had the sweet summer vegetal flavors of squash and tomato like I had originally envisioned, enlivened with heat from the hot Italian sausage stuffing and little prickly licorice spikes from basil and fennel, but the best part? An underlying flavor of smoke and char from the grill– the whole reason why camping food tastes better. In fact, it was like taking home a little bit of our camping trip with us.
So as September is quickly flying in upon us, I can’t think of a better meal to cook right now than this one. There’s the late summer/early fall rush of squash and tomatoes, not to mention we all need to take advantage of grilling weather while we can. Our oven has finally been fixed (with no worries– just the cost of replacing 2 cheapish parts), so if I want to try out my original vision for this dish, I suppose that could happen; however, as long as the summery weather sticks around, I think I’ll stick with this grilled adaptation for as long as I can.
Note: Since we were only grilling the squash and nothing else, we lit a small amount of coals, filling the chimney about 1/3 full or about 33 briquettes. The lit coals were arranged in a single layer on one side of the grill so this meant that the grill was relatively low in heat and added to the prolonged cooking time. If you’re grilling other things and thus have more coals lit or are using a gas grill, you probably don’t need to grill these nearly as long. In that case, I would probably grill over direct heat until grill marks form (guessing 10 minutes) then move them to the cooler side of the grill (no coals or no lit gas flame) and cook with the lid down until tender, probably another 20 minutes.
- 28 oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium white onion, halved
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- 3 zucchini or long green summer squash
- 13 oz bulk hot Italian sausage (or if you have sausage in casings, remove the casings before cooking and crumbling)
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced (yields about 1 teaspoon)
- 1/4 cup panko crumbs
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
In a medium sauce pan, combine the crushed tomatoes, butter, and halved onion over medium low heat. Let the sauce gently simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove the onion and stir in basil. Set aside on low flame until ready to use.
While waiting for grill to heat, prepare the filling. Cut each squash in half then split each half lengthwise for a total of 12 pieces. Using a spoon, scoop out the squash meat from each piece, leaving a 1/4 inch thick border. Chop up the squash meat and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the bottom of a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add onion, chopped squash meat and garlic and gently saute until onion and squash are softened, about 10-12 minutes. Add the sausage and continue to cook until sausage is browned and cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let filling cool for 15 minutes before using.
Add the panko crumbs to a small bowl and drizzle with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil. Mix together so that crumbs are coated. Lightly brush the outside of the squash shells with a little bit of olive oil then fill each hulled out shell with the sausage and squash mixture. Each shell should hold a few tablespoons. Lightly sprinkle the tops of each stuffed squash with panko crumbs.
Grill squash over direct heat with the lid down and top vents open for 30-45 minutes (see note) or until squash is tender. Plate a ladleful of tomato sauce on each plate then place three squash halves on top of sauce. Sprinkle with more basil or perhaps some grated Parmesan cheese before serving. Yields 4 servings of 3 squash pieces each.
CSA Count: 3
Summer squash, garlic, basil