Here is a versatile vegetable stuffing for tomatoes, artichoke bottoms, miniature cream puffs or chicken that is light and easy to make. It tastes fresh and creamy, and can even be refrigerated for four or five days.
The ready availability of required ingredients enhances the stuffing's versatility. For a heartier flavor, scallions may be substituted for the shallots. The zucchini should be firm and unblemished.
The imported parmesan should come to room temperature before being handled. Remove the heavy rind and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Do not process more than the recipe calls for so the remaining cheese retains maximum flavor. Process the chunked cheese with the steel blade of a food processor until very fine. Wrap remaining cheese in cheesecloth soaked in vinegar and wrung out. The refrigerated cheese will keep indefinitely.
Check food co-ops and health food stores for the unpasteurized cream; substitute walnuts or pine nuts for the almonds, if desired. If you use canned artichoke bottoms, they need only be reheated; be sure to rinse the bottoms before using. Miniature tart shells may be used instead of tiny cream puffs to hold the filling. ZUCCHINI AND SPINACH STUFFING (Makes about 2 3/4 cups) 2 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup shallots, peeled and minced 2 medium zucchini 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (3-ounce chunk) 1/2 cup very fine dry bread crumbs 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unpasteurized whipping cream 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Salt, freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peeled almonds
Heat butter on low heat and saute' shallots 3 to 5 minutes until soft but not browned. Clean zucchini and remove ends. Shred zucchini coarsely or process in food processor with steel blade until chopped but not minced. This should yield about 3 cups. Squeeze spinach dry and roll in paper towels for several minutes to remove excess moisture.
Raise heat to medium high, and add zucchini to pan. Toss for 3 to 5 minutes until zucchini is partially cooked and somewhat dry. Add spinach, stir to separate and toss for 2 minutes to remove moisture. Reduce heat to low.
Mix cheese and bread crumbs together. Add to vegetables and stir gently for 20 seconds until thick. Pour in 1/2 cup cream and stir for 1 minute until heated through. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons cream if necessary. The vegetable mixture should be thick and moist.
Stir in lemon juice, salt, pepper and almonds. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately, or cool uncovered. To store, cover and refrigerate up to 5 days. STUFFED TOMATOES 8 medium vine-ripened tomatoes 1 recipe vegetable stuffing (above)
Place tomatoes stem side down. This will help the tomato to sit squarely when serving. Slice and discard the top quarter of the tomato. Remove pulp, seeds and juice with a melon scoop and save for another recipe. Dry the inside of the tomato with a paper towel.
Prepare stuffing. Fill tomatoes to mound slightly and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. To prepare a day ahead, cool filling, fill tomato, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove tomatoes from refrigerator 1 hour prior to serving and discard plastic wrap. Bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes until heated through. Serve immediately. STUFFED ARTICHOKE BOTTOMS 8 artichoke bottoms, canned or freshly cooked 1/2 recipe vegetable stuffing (above)
Rinse artichoke bottoms, dry and fill with 3 tablespoons vegetable stuffing. This may be done a day ahead. Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until heated through. STUFFED MINIATURE CREAM PUFFS (Makes 45 1-inch cream puffs) 1 cup water 6 tablespoons butter Pinch salt 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour 4 eggs 1 recipe vegetable stuffing (above)
Heat water to boiling in a medium saucepan. Add butter and salt and melt. Remove from heat, add flour all at once and stir rapidly to incorporate. When a smooth paste is formed, place on heat, continue to stir for several minutes to evaporate some of the water and cook flour. The dough is ready when a thin skin forms on the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat. Place in a mixing bowl and beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes to cool. Add eggs one at a time. After the third egg, check consistency. Beat fourth egg in a small bowl. Add until paste is of piping consistency, but not runny.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper. Using a 1/2-inch plain tip and a pastry bag, pipe 1-inch puffs onto the cookie sheet. Smooth peaks with a spoon dipped in cold water. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Cool on a rack. Remove tops with a sharp knife and discard any moist dough in puff. Use immediately or freeze in plastic bags until ready to use. Recipe makes about 65 puffs. An hour prior to serving fill cream puffs with 1 tablespoon stuffing. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes until heated through. Serve immediately as an hors d'oeuvre. STUFFED CHICKEN BREASTS 8 chicken breasts with skin and breast bone 1/2 recipe vegetable stuffing
Gently slide fingers under skin of the chicken breast. Place up to 3 tablespoons of stuffing under the skin. Press to flatten mixture. Preheat broiler for 5 minutes. Place chicken 4 inches from broiler, skin side down, on a lightly oiled broiler rack. Broil 10 minutes. Turn chicken over and broil another 10 minutes. Serve with steamed rice and fresh broccoli sprinkled with lemon juice.