Classic Italian involtini usually involve thinly sliced veal rolled around a stuffing of breadcrumbs, cheese and perhaps prosciutto or pine nuts. But our food appreciation classes are still focused on the best of the vegetable harvest, so we switched out the veal for thin slices of zucchini.
This lesson does involve a bit of patience and skill to get those thin slices of zucchini. But the payoff is huge: kids wolfing down zucchini wrapped around a stuffing of brown rice, onions, garlic and parsley.
To make about 14 rollups (involtini), first cook 1/2 cup brown rice in 1 cup of water with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook slowly over low heat until the rice is cooked through and the water fully incorporated. You can do this part a day ahead.
Next, cut 1/2 yellow onion into small dice and saute over moderate heat in a heavy skillet greased with extra-virgin olive oil. Season the onion with a bit of salt to draw out the liquid and add 1 clove garlic, minced. Continue cooking until the onion is soft, then remove from the heat and add to the cooked rice, along with several spoonfuls of “petite” diced canned tomatoes and a roasted red pepper chopped into small dice. (You can roast your own, or used canned.) Stir in a handful of chopped parsley and about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt to taste. You now have your stuffing.
Meanwhile, cut two hefty zucchini into 1/8-inch slices. We did this by first trimming away the ends, then standing the squash upright on the thick end and using a serrated bread knife to slice from top to bottom. You might want to start by trimming a slice of skin from the fat end to square the squash up a bit. You should get 6 or 7 slices from each zucchini. For the last slice or two, you might need to lay the zucchini flat and cut from the side. Alternatively, you might try doing the slicing on a sharp mandolin if you happen to own one.
In a large, heavy skillet greased generously with extra-virgin olive oil, lay the zucchini slices flat over moderately high heat and cook until lightly browned on both sides. Season with a bit of salt. Do this in batches, and as the zucchini finish cooking, use a pair of tongs to remove them to a flat work surface. Place a generous dollop of stuffing on each piece of zucchini near the wide end, then roll the zucchini around the stuffing. Hold the stuffing in place on each side with your fingers. Place the finished rollups on an ungreased baking pan.
Finally, spoon more diced tomatoes over the rollups and dust with grated Parmesan cheese. Place in a 350-degree oven and bake for 10 minutes and serve.
I think you’ll agree that the much-maligned zucchini never tasted so good.