Italian sausage mixed with scooped-out and cooked zucchini the perfect solution for oversized squashes. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

A special annual treat for people who grow zucchini, or live next door to friendly zucchini-growing neighbors, is acquiring the squash just past its smaller steaming or sauteing size — it’s the size commonly found in produce sections, but not quite baseball-bat great-for-relish size. What you want are the stuffer-roasters of the squash world, say 10-12 inches long and about 10 inches in diameter at the thick end, harvested before the seeds become too prominent and tough.

Hollow them out, steam or bake the shell briefly, then chop up the innards and cook them in olive oil and mix with a little onion, garlic and fried Italian sausage, sweet or hot, whichever you prefer. Then spoon the mixture back into the hollowed out squash, top with grated parmesan or mozzarella or even cheddar if it is what you have and bake it a little longer.

What a good supper. Savor it with a hefty dose of vegetables.

A melon baller makes scooping out the seeds fairly easy. I used about half of the scooped out zucchini by adding it to the cooked sausage but you can move the needle on this by using less or more sausage and adding or subtracting zucchini.

I personally love the fennel seeds in sweet sausage and sometimes add a little more fennel after I toast it a bit in a frying pan. A little basil improves the mixture. If you go the hot sausage route, more garlic and Italian frying peppers are a good addition.

With so many interesting kinds of sausage (including sausage made with lamb, chicken, turkey or, if there is a hunter in your family, venison) available these days, you have flavor options galore.

Plan a pasta side dish, such as long pasta tossed with garlic and olive oil or pesto, for example, or extra stuffed-squash filling. Sliced tomatoes with a vinaigrette splashed on them makes a great side. Plan on a plain lettuce salad.

People in this house like sausage stuffer-roasters so much that I let at least one zucchini grow a little bigger on purpose, though you know how zucchini can be if you turn your back briefly.

Sausage-Stuffed Zucchini

Italian sausage mixed with scooped-out and cooked zucchini the perfect solution for oversized squashes. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Serves 2-3 as a main dish

1 medium-large zucchini, hollowed, reserving the insides

1/2- to 3/4-pound sweet Italian sausage, or link sausage removed from its casing

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 fresh paste tomato or half a slicer, chopped

1 teaspoon crushed dried basil leaves, or 3 or 4 shredded fresh basil leaves

1 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds (optional)

Parmesan cheese, grated mozzarella or other cheese, for sprinkling

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly oil a baking pan and lay the hollowed zucchini in it, scooped part down, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until it begins to soften.

Meanwhile, fry the sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces. Drain off excess fat, leaving a couple tablespoons in the pan.

Add the onion, garlic, about half of the scooped out zucchini, and cook until the vegetables are soft.

Add the tomato, basil and optional fennel, and cook until the tomato softens.

Spoon the mixture into the softened zucchini, top with the cheese and bake for another 15 minutes.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...