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Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini

July 6, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Recently, I was having dinner at a restaurant and noticed several types of “stuffed potatoes” on the menu. If you’re unfamiliar, the name basically tells it all. A baked potato is cut open and some of the insides are scooped out and then replaced with a variety of fillings such as bacon, broccoli, cheese, chili and sour cream. The end result can be rather delicious and the price is usually right because it’s quite filling. But since I no longer eat potatoes I quickly moved on to other, more nutritious options on the menu.

Flashforward to the present where I’m trying to come up with yet another health promoting recipe for my readers. All sorts of thoughts run through my mind. What have I eaten lately? Anything memorable? Are there any foods I’ve been researching that would be interesting? What kind of recipe would I like to make if only it was healthy? Then it hit me: stuffed potatoes without the potato and with a Mediterranean twist.

When I turn my attention to a geographic destination I can sometimes find culinary inspiration. The Mediterranean region is widely known for using specific herbs and vegetables in its cuisine. What’s more, many of these foods and seasonings are believed to contribute to the numerous health benefits attributed to this particular way of eating. This is precisely why I’ve chosen to replace potatoes with zucchini and conventional potato stuffings with the antioxidant-rich herbs: basil, oregano and rosemary. (1,2,3)

Zucchini lends itself beautifully to stuffing. But, more importantly, it allows one to replace a starchy vegetable which is very high in carbohydrates with a low-carb vegetable which is loaded with valuable phytochemicals. Scientists have identified zucchini as being a good source of carotenoids and phenolic antioxidants. These are non-nutritive, plant chemicals which have been shown to protect against various degenerative diseases and possibly even cancer and cardiovascular disease. (4,5,6,7,8)

Among the herbs I used in today’s recipe, basil has documented antibacterial, antihypertensive and circulation enhancing effects. Preliminary experiments suggest that oregano may discourage the development of artherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome which is characterized by “the coexistence of obesity, hyperglycemia, hypertension and hyper/dyslipidemia”. Finally, rosemary has recently shown promise in reducing the risk of liver cirrhosis, neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and it may even assist with weight management by limiting the digestion of dietary fat via “inhibition of pancreatic lipase activity”. (9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17)

Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini

3 medium, organic zucchini

11 oz of Chevre or soft goat’s milk cheese

2 oz of organic sundried tomatoes (preserved in olive oil)

1 tbs of fresh, organic basil and rosemary

1 tsp of dried, organic oregano

Nutrasalt or salt, if desired.

Nutritional Content: Calories: 160. Protein: 11 grams. Fat: 10 grams. “Net Carbs”: 6 grams. Fiber: 2 grams. 6 servings per batch.

Carotenoids May Promote Stronger Bones in Men and Women

Source: J Bone Miner Res. 2009 June; 24(6): 1086–1094. (link)

Begin by allowing the goat cheese to reach room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 450°F. Slice the zucchini down the center and hollow out the interior using a melon scooper or spoon. You want to leave approximately 1/4″ of the surrounding zucchini. Set aside the zucchini centers and rough chop them along with the basil, rosemary and sundried tomatoes. In a bowl, thoroughly mix the goat cheese, herbs, tomatoes and zucchini centers. Add salt and pepper to taste. Generously pack the filling into the hollowed zucchini halves. Then place the stuffed zucchini onto a baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Use the broil setting for the last few minutes if you’d prefer a crispier finish.

You can enjoy these Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini as a main course or a side dish. Initially, I envisioned them occupying the part of the plate typically reserved for baked potatoes. However, when I tried them I was surprised at how filling they were when eaten alone. Part of the reason is clearly their robust nutritional profile. But, I think the texture also has something to do with it. Adding back the zucchini centers and the sundried tomatoes, which have a meaty consistency, may elevate this recipe from a side dish to an entree for some people. Either way, I think this recipe is a good example of how you can increase your antioxidant and vegetable intake while replacing a far less healthy menu option.

Be well!

JP

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8 Comments & Updates to “Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini”

  1. anne h Says:

    When’s dinner?
    I’ll be right over!
    Looks good.

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Anne! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Oct Says:

    This recipe looks amazing.

  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Oct! :)

    I really liked how it turned out. This recipe creation process is helping to spice up our menu plan at home – a very good thing!

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Mark Smallwood Says:

    Ever thought about competing on Food Networks “Iron Chef”. You come with some good ones.

  6. JP Says:

    You’re too kind, Mark! :)

    I do my best but I’m a long way from being Iron Chef caliber. But better to aim high than not! I’ll keep working on it!

    Be well!

    JP

  7. JP Says:

    Update: A reason to season with rosemary …

    http://www.aulamedica.es/nh/pdf/8048.pdf

    Nutr Hosp. 2014 Nov 1;30(5):1084-91.

    Impact of cooked functional meat enriched with omega-3 fatty acids and rosemary extract on inflammatory and oxidative status; a randomised, double-blind, crossover study.

    BACKGROUND & AIM: n-3 fatty acid intake has been associated with inflammatory benefits in cardiovascular disease (CVD). Functionalising meat may be of great interest. The aim of the present study was to assess the effect of functional meat containing n-3 and rosemary extract on inflammatory and oxidative status markers in subjects with risk for CVD.

    METHODS AND RESULTS: A randomised, double-blind, cross-over study was undertaken to compare the effects on the above markers of consuming functional or control meat products. 43 volunteers with at least two lipid profile variables showing risk for CVD were randomly assigned to receive functional meat (FM) or control meat (CM) over 12-weeks with a 4-week wash-out interval before crossover. Functional effects were assessed by examining lipid profile, CRP, PAI-1, TNF-alpha, IL-6, fibrinogen (inflammatory markers), and TBARS, FRAP and 8-iso-PGF2 (oxidative status markers). 33 subjects (24 women) aged 50.7±8.8 years completed the study. In FM treatment, PAI-1, fibrinogen and 8-iso-PGF2 decreased significantly after 12 weeks, while FRAP significantly increased. In contrast, in CM treatment, a significant increase was seen in PAI-1, while FRAP significantly declined. Significant differences were also seen between the FM and CM treatments after 12 weeks in terms of the change observed in PAI-1, FRAP and 8-iso-PGF2 values. No significant differences were seen in anthropometric variables nor were adverse effects reported.

    CONCLUSION: The consumption of FM containing n-3 and rosemary extract improved oxidative and inflammatory status of people with at least two lipid profile variables showing risk for CVD. The inclusion of such functional meat in a balanced diet might be a healthy lifestyle option.

    Be well!

    JP

  8. JP Says:

    Update 05/12/15:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25961184

    JAMA Intern Med. 2015 May 11.

    Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Randomized Clinical Trial.

    Importance: Oxidative stress and vascular impairment are believed to partly mediate age-related cognitive decline, a strong risk factor for development of dementia. Epidemiologic studies suggest that a Mediterranean diet, an antioxidant-rich cardioprotective dietary pattern, delays cognitive decline, but clinical trial evidence is lacking.

    Objective: To investigate whether a Mediterranean diet supplemented with antioxidant-rich foods influences cognitive function compared with a control diet.

    Design, Setting, and Participants: Parallel-group randomized clinical trial of 447 cognitively healthy volunteers from Barcelona, Spain (233 women [52.1%]; mean age, 66.9 years), at high cardiovascular risk were enrolled into the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea nutrition intervention trial from October 1, 2003, through December 31, 2009. All patients underwent neuropsychological assessment at inclusion and were offered retesting at the end of the study.

    Interventions: Participants were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extravirgin olive oil (1 L/wk), a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts (30 g/d), or a control diet (advice to reduce dietary fat).

    Main Outcomes and Measures: Rates of cognitive change over time based on a neuropsychological test battery: Mini-Mental State Examination, Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), Animals Semantic Fluency, Digit Span subtest from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Verbal Paired Associates from the Wechsler Memory Scale, and the Color Trail Test. We used mean z scores of change in each test to construct 3 cognitive composites: memory, frontal (attention and executive function), and global.

    Results: Follow-up cognitive tests were available in 334 participants after intervention (median, 4.1 years). In multivariate analyses adjusted for confounders, participants allocated to a Mediterranean diet plus olive oil scored better on the RAVLT (P = .049) and Color Trail Test part 2 (P = .04) compared with controls; no between-group differences were observed for the other cognitive tests. Similarly adjusted cognitive composites (mean z scores with 95% CIs) for changes above baseline of the memory composite were 0.04 (-0.09 to 0.18) for the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil, 0.09 (-0.05 to 0.23; P = .04 vs controls) for the Mediterranean diet plus nuts, and -0.17 (-0.32 to -0.01) for the control diet. Respective changes from baseline of the frontal cognition composite were 0.23 (0.03 to 0.43; P = .003 vs controls), 0.03 (-0.25 to 0.31), and -0.33 (-0.57 to -0.09). Changes from baseline of the global cognition composite were 0.05 (-0.11 to 0.21; P = .005 vs controls) for the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil, -0.05 (-0.27 to 0.18) for the Mediterranean diet plus nuts, and -0.38 (-0.57 to -0.18) for the control diet. All cognitive composites significantly (P < .05) decreased from baseline in controls.

    Conclusions and Relevance: In an older population, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts is associated with improved cognitive function.

    Be well!

    JP

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