Zucchini Parmesan (GF)
Want to hear a story? When I was 7, or maybe 8 years old my mother made veggie burritos for dinner. She sautéed onions and zucchini and a pepper or two. She nestled the warm vegetables between toasted tortillas and a whole bunch of grated sharp cheddar. There was probably guacamole involved. Salsa was definitely present as well. She rolled up the burritos and served them up to me and my sister with a hopeful smile.
We were not amused.
Don’t get me wrong, we grew up eating vegetables. I won’t say we were forced to eat them, but I will say that there was always something green on the dinner plate and we knew better than to not munch away. And it’s not even as though we didn’t enjoy it. Carrots and hummus? Sure. Broccoli with garlic on top of pasta? Absolutely. Salad? Puh-lease. We ate salad for BREAKFAST. (While I am in fact saying that idiomatically, knowing my mom I wouldn’t put it past her.) So you get where I’m coming from. We certainly weren’t those kids that turned up their noses at the healthy stuff, but we had our limits. Eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash. Zucchini. Basically anything squishy or viscous didn’t quite do it for us. And by didn’t quite do it, I mean this. Yet, those zucchini burritos found their way onto the dinner plate one fateful evening. We looked at the offending objects. Mom smiled. I think my sister may have been a champ and managed to choke down a few bites. Not so much for yours truly. I bit. I chewed. I thought entirely too hard about the fact that I was eating a smushy, pulpy mass. Aaaaaand I spat it right out onto the kitchen floor. Geesh.
I can only imagine what ran through my mother’s mind. She probably wanted to make me sit at the table and eat every last bite of that squishy burrito, even if it took all night. She likely wanted to scream. She definitely wanted me to clean the floor. But I’m pretty sure she just ate the rest of them herself and made us chicken nuggets or something. So this is a rambling way of saying that I was not a zucchini fan (and that’s clearly putting it mildly) until this year, when I made a vow to myself to try new things, pulpy vegetables included. It has been a treacherous journey, but I’ve lived to tell the tale.
I’ve always been more of a lasagna gal when it comes to Italian casserole dishes, but this zucchini parm has really changed my mind. I’ve eaten my fair share of eggplant parm too, but I think I find the texture of zucchini more pleasing than eggplant. The veggies are baked, which is a really nice alternative to the usual frying (in terms of both preservation of vegetable taste and of kitchen not smelling like a diner.) As I mention below, this was inspired by a recipe featured in the Times last month, but I used my own tried and true sauce recipe instead. I make it at least once a week. It’s just as good on pasta as it is on pizza. Or right out of the pot on a spoon (so what who cares, I’m Italian!) I’ve also gotten reaaAAally into spiralizing things this summer, and I think this tomato sauce + carrot/zucchini noodles is AMAZING. But we’re not talking about the spralizer right now (all in good time!!) This is a post about zucchini parm. So okay. Final thoughts: this is a great dish if you’re in the mood for something hearty, but not quite as intense as a giant bowl of pasta. It’s also great if you’re serving someone who is avoiding gluten. It is not great for vegans. There’s a lot of cheese up in here. To the recipe!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can peeled tomatoes
1 28-oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
18 basil leaves, chopped
several glugs red wine
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
2 to 2¼ pounds zucchini
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 garlic clove
~2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
4 ounces fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, sliced
Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium, then add the onion and sauté until the onion is translucent (5-7 minutes.) Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so, then add tomatoes, thyme, and basil, stirring well. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until mixture comes to a boil. Add wine, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil again, Return heat to medium, cover, and let cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more wine, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Prep the zucchini: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Slice off the ends of the zucchini and cut them in half crosswise, then lengthwise into 1/4 to 1/3 inch-thick slices. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil. Place zucchini on the baking sheets in one layer. Roast for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and reduce heat to 375 degrees F.
Put it all together: Rub a 2-quart gratin with the half garlic clove and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread 1/4 cup tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish. Lay a third of the zucchini in an even layer over the sauce. Spoon another 1/4 cup of sauce over zucchini and sprinkle with 1/4 cup parmesan and a third of the pecorino and both mozzarella cheeses. Repeat for 2 more layers, ending with the remaining cheeses. There will be leftover sauce. (Aren’t you lucky! Make some pasta later this week and then go to town on the sauce. Or just break out a baguette. You won’t be sorry.) Drizzle on a tablespoon of olive oil. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown. Allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving to firm up a bit. I like to top my portions with a dollop of sauce and cheese, and thick slices of chewy bread to mop up every last bit from the bowl, but you can listen to your heart.