CHEESY STUFFED ZUCCHINI BOATS ITALIANO
1 very large (12-15”) or 2 medium size zucchinis (8-10”), about 3-4 pounds
3 slices white bread
¼ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups spaghetti sauce, divided
1 tablespoon Dish off the Block Ciao Bella Italian Spice Blend
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper, divided
1 ½-pounds ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 ½ cups baby spinach leaves, packed and rough chopped
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, packed and chopped
1-pound fresh mozzarella slices
3-ounces small pepperoni slices
Chopped basil or parsley for garnish
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil (the water should be deep enough to cover the length of the zucchini). Slice zucchini(s) in half lengthwise and immerse in the boiling water. Let cook until tender when poked with a fork, about 15-20 minutes depending on the size. Remove from water and let cool, cut side down on paper towels.
When cool, use a spoon to scoop out the seeds/pulp from each zucchini half, leaving enough of the zucchini shell to keep its shape, creating the ‘boats’. Drain the pulp and press with paper towels to remove most of the moisture. Chop pulp into bite size pieces and place in a large bowl.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the zucchini shells on it. Pat the inside of the shells dry with paper towels and season them with ½ teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.
Tear the white bread slices into small pieces and add then to the bowl with the pulp. Pour the milk over the bread and squish with your hands until the milk is absorbed. Add the eggs, ½ cup of the spaghetti sauce, Italian seasoning, remaining 1 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper to the bowl. Stir to combine.
Add the ground beef, onion, chopped red pepper, breadcrumbs, parmesan, 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella, spinach, and fresh basil to the bowl. Massage everything together with your hands until well mixed and all of the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the meat.
Divide the meat mixture in half. Use one half to line each of the zucchini shells, leaving a narrow cavity in the center of the meat. Line each cavity with mozzarella slices and then top with the other half of the meat, encasing the sliced mozzarella inside the center of the meat. Note, you will have some extra mozzarella slices which you can use later on top of the boats. Just make sure to put a good amount inside for gooey cheesy goodness!!
Spread the remaining spaghetti sauce on top of the meat in the boats and bake for 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and Place any of the remaining sliced mozzarella on top of the sauce along with the remaining cup of shredded mozzarella. Top with the pepperoni slices and place back in the oven for an addition 30-40 minutes until the cheese on top is browned and bubbly and the cheese in the center is melted and gooey.
Remove from the oven and garnish with basil or parsley… DEVOUR!