1poundsweet Italian sausageground or links (about 2 large links)
1tablespoonextra-virgin olive oil
2 ½tablespoonstomato paste
15ouncescanned diced tomatoes
1cupmozzarella cheesedivided, shredded or torn
fresh basil and chili flakesfor garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Pour the olive oil into a large pan over medium-high heat; add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds (do not brown). Add the chopped onion oregano and basil; Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until translucent and tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove the sausage from the casing: Slice down the whole length of the link with the tip of a sharp knife. Peel the casing back in one piece; discard. Place sausage in skillet with the onion and garlic. Cook until evenly brown, crumbling it as it cooks.
Meanwhile, cut the zucchini lengthwise and use a small spoon or melon baller to scoop out seeds in the middle. Try to leave about ¼-inch of flesh around the outside of the zucchini so they have some structure to them. Discard the scooped zucchini. You will have 8 boats. Place the zucchini on the lined sheet pan, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Divide the mozzarella in half. Add half of it to the bottoms of each zucchini boat; reserving the other half for topping.
When the sausage is done, dump it into a sieve over a bowl to drain. Add the tomato paste to the same hot pan to brown. When the tomato paste has that nice rust color to it, add in the diced tomatoes, stirring to loosen up the paste and brown bits of the sausage from the bottom of the pan. Add the drained sausage back into the pan with the tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then lower the heat; continue to simmer for about 10 to15 minutes. (The longer you simmer; the better, but don’t allow it to become too runny.)
After simmering, remove the sausage filling from the heat. Carefully spoon the filling into the cheese filled zucchini boats, dividing the filling between each. Top each sausage filled zucchini with remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese; sprinkle with a little oregano.
Place the zucchini boats in the oven to bake for approximately 30 to 40 minutes or until the zucchini are cooked fork tender, and still, have some structure to them. Do not overcook, or they will come out mushy.
Garnish with fresh basil and chili flakes, if desired. Serve warm.
If the zucchini wobble back and forth, you can cut a thin slice off of the bottom skin. This creates a flatter surface and the zucchini will more stable, making it easier to transfer the pan in and out of the oven without dumping out the stuffing.
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