For those of you whose garden is now producing a ton of zucchini, think about making Zucchini Parmigiana. It feeds a crowd, it’s inexpensive and it freezes well. In the summer when my neighbors leave surprise bags of zucchini on my screened porch, I am probably one of the few receivers of their garden bounty who actually is glad to get it because my family loves zucchini, so I have many lovely recipes that call for lots of it.
This recipe is the one my mother made every summer on our farm when the zucchini ripened and was as big as baseball clubs. Back then it was not a sin to fry vegetables, so she fried the zucchini first and then layered it like eggplant parmigiana with sauce, parmesan cheese and lots of mozzarella cheese. My next version will be with baked zucchini slices, omitting the frying, in order to reduce the amount of fat, but for now, I just have to give you the traditional recipe which may contain more olive oil, but also tastes like the one I remember from my grandma and mom.
3 medium or two large zucchini, washed, sliced and weighted on a board until the zucchini gives out its juices.
1 cup of all purpose flour placed in a large plastic bag and seasoned with salt and pepper.
1/2 cup to 1 cup of olive oil
2 tbsp of olive oil
1/2 cup of grated parme
1 lb of mozzarella cheese, shredded (I like Polly O whole milk mozzarella)
1 large can or two medium cans of Italian imported plum tomatoes in juice
3 cloves of garlic sliced
1 medium bunch of Italian fresh basil
2 tbsp of finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tbsp of butter
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Wash the zucchini under cold water and dry with paper towels. Slice the zucchini in 1/4 inch rounds. Pat them dry. Place the slices on a large wooden board or plastic vegetable cutting board. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and weight it down with heavy cans. After 30 minutes check the slices, making sure the slices have released their liquid. Pat dry.
Place them in the plastic bag that contains the flour and seasoning. Dip all the slices in the seasoned flour and then pile the slices in a large bowl or on a plate near the skillet where you will fry them.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy frying pan until the oil is shimmering. Fry the slices 8 or 9 at a time, three minutes to a side or until each side gets lightly browned. Remove the browned slices to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. You can stack layers of fried slices between sheets of paper towels until all are fried and stacked between paper towels to absorb most of the oil.
Make the tomato sauce now or use sauce from your freezer that you have defrosted for this dish.
Blend the canned tomatoes in your blender until they are smooth – just a few seconds of blending accomplishes this. Peel 3 garlic cloves and slice them up. In a heavy 2 qt saucepan, on medium high heat, heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil until hot and shimmering. Add the sliced garlic and stir the garlic around in the oil until it gets slightly golden and has permeated the oil with its flavor. Remove the garlic and set aside.
Throw in the blended tomatoes and stir well. Add salt, pepper, previously sautéed garlic, chopped parsley and shredded basil. Stir sauce well, bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Taste the sauce. If the tomatoes are too acid, add 1/2 to 1 tsp of sugar. Taste again. If still too acidic, add 1/2 to 1 tsp baking soda. It will foam up, so keep stirring until the foam dies down. Taste again. Sauce should now be free from too much acidity. Partially cover the sauce and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the sauce no longer tastes raw. Turn off the heat and add the 2 tbsp of butter. Stir until the butter melts into the sauce.
When sauce is done you can begin to assemble the dish. In a 9 x 9 ceramic baking dish, grease bottom and sides with butter. Then pour a ladle of sauce on the bottom of the dish. Next, place a layer of zucchini slices. Cover the layer with some sauce, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella cheese. Continue layering until all zucchini slices have been used up. On the last layer place a ladle of sauce, a sprinkle of parmesan and a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella cheese.
You can bake this right away in a 350° oven for 30 minutes until bubbling and nicely browned on top, or you can place it in the refrigerator covered in foil and plan to bake it later that day, or you can wrap it well in foil and freeze it. It will keep two months in the freezer. Bake a frozen zucchini parmigiana at 350º, but longer than a fresh one until it is bubbling and nicely browned.
*If your dish seems to have too much water coming up on the sides as it is baking, pull it out and remove the water using a large spoon or a turkey baster. Keep taking out the water until it stops appearing and the casserole begins to bake and then brown well. Don’t worry, it will. The water is annoying, but it won’t hurt the finished product. If you weighted the slices and dried them well, this could prevent water, but not always.