The day after we got back from Grass Valley with the fridge virtually empty and our appetites leaning away from serious protein for a while, I scrounged around in pantry and refrigerator for dinner fixings and came up, magically, with one of the best meals ever.
I had four eightball zucchinis in the fridge, cute little ones no larger than a billiard ball, a single, cooked, four-inch length of the Italian sausage we had made over the Fourth of July weekend, an onion, some garlic, three kinds of Italian cheese, a small head of broccoli and half a box of fancypants pasta. Add a little dried basil and you've got dinner.
First, I sautéed half of the chopped onion and three cloves of crushed garlic in olive oil in a wide pan, then added the sausage, finely diced. After the sausage was heated through, I set the pan aside to cool while I sliced the tops off the zucchinis and scooped out the innards with a small spoon. When the sausage mixture was cool enough to handle, I stuffed it into the zucchinis, placed them in a small roasting dish and slid them into a 400 degree oven until they were just soft but not mushy, about an hour.
While the zucchinis roasted, I boiled salted water for the pasta and, cut the broccoli into florets. This pasta takes about 20 minutes to cook; when it was nearly done, I threw the florets in the water to cook until it was bright green, perhaps two or three minutes.
While the pasta was cooking, I grated about a cup of half Romano and half Parmesan cheeses into a large bowl with olive oil and the basil, mixing that together into a paste. When the pasta and broccoli were scooped out of the water, I dumped them into the bowl and added about a quarter cup of the pasta water, quickly mixing it all around until the cheese melted over the pasta and broccoli. A tablespoon or two of butter added a little more richness as I stirred it around.
When the zucchinis emerged from the oven, I lifted the tops and laid a triangle of provolone cheese over the filling, then replaced the tops to help melt the cheese.
Plated in pasta bowls with a nest of the pasta surrounding the zucchini, it made a pretty presentation. When we cut into the zucchinis, releasing the spicy, juicy, flavorful contents to mix with the pasta, the result was truly ambrosial. This is one of those meals that proves that meat makes a great condiment - just a little is needed to punch a dish up from good to great, and it doesn't have to be the main event. That one small link fed three people amply.
It was perfect after the Giant Steak Weekend, to ease us down off the meaty high.