A taste of Tuscany: stuffed courgettes


This week’s taste of elsewhere comes courtesy of food writer Ed Smith, the author of On the Side, The Borough Market Cookbook and Rocket & Squash. Cook up his simple stuffed courgettes to transport yourself to the rolling hills of Tuscany

You can find Tuscan sausages in all Italian delis and many places beyond them – stubby and plump sausages filled with coarse ground pink meat, plenty of fat, punchy seasonings (sometimes chilli, sometimes black pepper and garlic, often fennel seed), and no breadcrumbs. They’re always dense and firm yet also juicy, and superb with polenta or olive-oil-slicked new potatoes and seasonal greens. But that highly seasoned, intensely flavoured and fat-rich sausage meat also makes a quality mincemeat, and is a more than solid basis for a quality, milk- or cream-enriched ragù. That ragù could be stirred through a pasta shape like orecchiette; however, through summer and early autumn, I’m partial to a stuffed courgette – as Tuscans are too.

Best made with round courgettes (or “patty pans”), but medium-large long courgettes work fine too. Indeed, later on in the summer you could just fill one large marrow. It goes well with something like a Vernaccia di San Gimignano, an unoaked Chardonnay or perhaps a Sicilian Catarratto.

Tuscan sausage stuffed courgettes

Serves 4 as part of a light(ish) meal

  • 8 medium-sized round or long courgettes (c. 200-250g each)
  • 6 tablespoons (90ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • 1 small onion – finely diced
  • 3-4 Tuscan sausages (250g)
  • 1-2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 100g double cream
  • 25g freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan (gas mark 6). Cut a very fine slice from the base of each courgette so they sit flat, then cut off the top 2 to 3cm (this will become a lid). Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from each courgette, leaving walls about 1 to 2cm thick. Arrange these in a roasting tin or other oven proof dish that holds them in one fairly snug layer.

Roughly chop the courgette flesh then cook this in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat for 15 minutes. Add a good pinch of salt and quite a bit of black pepper, stir from time to time and use your spoon or spatula to squidge the courgettes, until you end with soft paste with most of their moisture having cooked away.

Meanwhile, place another heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil plus the diced onion and a pinch of salt. Let that soften gently for 4 to 5 minutes. While that’s happening, use the point of a knife to slice down the front of each sausage. Peel away and discard the casings, then use the back of a fork to break the sausage meat apart into mince. Add this and the fennel seeds to the onions, increase the temperature a little and sauté until the meat is firm. Stir in the chopped courgette, cream and Parmesan, then remove from the hob. Taste, then add salt and pepper if required (but note the sausage meat is likely to have been fairly highly seasoned).

Spoon the ragù into the courgette shells, placing the lids on top, drizzling with the remaining oil. Pour into the dish enough just-boiled water from a kettle to come 1 to 2cm up around the courgettes. If you have a lid that fits, place this on top, or cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, then baste the courgettes with juices from the pan and then return to the oven, without a lid this time, to bake for 20 to 30 minutes more – until the courgettes are browned and sinking a little, their filling both crusting and bubbling over.

Let the courgettes rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving – they’ll taste better when not piping hot. Serve two per person, adding a final glug of olive oil to each courgette, with a tomato salad and a bitter or peppery leaf salad nearby.

Ed Smith is the author of On the Side; a sourcebook of inspiring side dishes (Bloomsbury), The Borough Market Cookbook (Hodder & Stoughton), and rocketandsquash.com. He’s @rocketandsquash on Instagram and Twitter.