25 July 2011

Eats: zucchini parmesan

It must be pretty clear on this blog that I love Italian food. So far in this young blog’s life I’ve written about making focaccia, gnocchi, and pizza – and that’s fully half of the food posts to date. And I’m sure any Italian would also enjoy ice cream and chocolate pie, so basically if you are enjoying all of my food posts I am going to assume you live in a boot-shaped country, or you are just as pasta-crazed as I am.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that today I’m writing about another recipe with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and noodles. It’s how I roll. But I promise to have a few non-Italian recipes, and soon! I’m covering this one today because, first, it’s another update on a meatless meal, second, it makes use of the marinara sauce I wrote about last week for pizza, and third, it’s got a giant zucchini in it, and what’s summer without giant zucchini?

The giant zucchini was actually the reason for making this dish, because I was in the mood for some summery vegetables. I didn’t really have a recipe for this dish – it’s one of those dishes I call “frankenrecipes”, because I read several and then do what I want. But Italian food lends itself well to being “thrown together”, which is my kind of cooking, so it was a success! For lack of a better name, I’m calling this zucchini parmesan, despite the fact that the zucchini isn’t breaded and there is actually no parmesan cheese in the dish. You could call it “zucchini pasta casserole”, or leave out the pasta and eat it as a side dish and call it “Italian zucchini”. Whatever. It’s tasty no matter what you call it!

Okay! To start you will need one of those mutantly giant zucchinis that seem to be all over the groceries and the farmer’s markets and your neighbor’s backyard so they try to pawn them off on you at this time of year.

I bought this one at the grocery, so I lose locavore points. It’s about eight inches long. To make this dish I sliced it into quarter-inch thick slices:

Now. For this dish I decided to cook the zucchini in the oven, which means I had an extremely high risk of mushy zucchini. Which is disgusting. Often, mushiness comes from a combination of cooking too long and too much water. To combat the water problem, I spread the zucchini out in a single layer and sprinkled them with salt. This is called “sweating” the zucchini, which only sounds gross and is a better alternative to mushy zucchini which is actually gross.

In the meantime I boiled up some pasta in salted water. We had about five ounces of uncooked penne pasta leftover from another meal, so I put it in this meal to use it up and to bulk up the zucchini and make it more “main dish”. But you could totally leave it out!

After the pasta cooked, I added some olive oil to an 8x8 baking dish:

Then I drained the pasta, added a little more oil to it, and tossed it in the baking dish. And then covered it with shredded mozzarella, because I compulsively cover everything with cheese:

Meanwhile, back at the zucchini...

Yup, that’s sweaty. I went through two paper towels patting them dry.

No worries, like a good gym citizen I also wiped off the equipment after use.

Then it was time to finish assembling the dish by layering the zucchini on top of the pasta:

I had forgotten to thaw another sauce square that morning, so I thawed this one by running it under hot water for minute or two:

And then spread the sauce over all the zucchini.

I suppose you could add an extra sauce layer in between the noodles and the zucchini if you want. But if you don’t, some of the sauce will drip through to the pasta below And in any case, the oil and cheese flavor the pasta as well. And speaking of cheese:

Yeah, that’s 90% of why I love Italian food, right there.

If you’re like me and you cook meals ahead of time, this is the stopping point! I covered the dish and put it in the fridge until the following day. I worried a bit that the liquid in the sauce might get absorbed in the zucchini, but it turned out just fine.

The next evening Mr. P and I gmail-chatted regarding finishing preparation of the zucchini parmesan:

Mr. P: what do I need to do for dinner?
me: umm
me: let's say 400 deg for 20 minutes?
me: maybe 350 for 30-45?
me: i dunno, i don't have a real recipe
Mr. P: oh
me: it is a made-up frankenrecipe
me: so, whatever you think!
Mr. P: =/
me: i think i would do 400 and check it after 20 minutes
me: like see if they're going mushy
me: if they are, done! if not, 10 more minutes!
Mr. P: ok

Result: Mr. P baked it at 400 degrees, uncovered, for “twenty minutes but then the timer went off for a little while so like twenty-five minutes”.

Following result: Delicious! Despite not knowing having a clue how to bake it, we ended up doing a good job. The zucchini was cooked, but still crisp without any mushiness. Perfect!

This dish totally satisfied my craving for summer vegetables and ongoing passion for all Italian food. If you also have that craving or that passion, I hope you enjoy it, too!

Since I didn’t cite a recipe, here’s a concise recipe for you:

1 8-inch zucchini
4-6 oz. penne pasta
~4 tablespoons olive oil
~1 to 2 cups marinara sauce, or 1/3 of this recipe
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, divided
salt for sweating zucchini and boiling pasta

Cut the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick slices (discard the ends) and spread into a single layer. Salt the zucchini on both sides and let rest for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, boil pasta in salted water as directed and coat 8x8 baking dish with around two tablespoons olive oil. Drain pasta, toss with remaining olive oil, and add to baking dish. Sprinkle pasta with 1/4-cup mozzarella cheese. Pat sweated zucchini dry and add to baking dish (mostly single layer, some overlap is okay). Spread marinara sauce over zucchini and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F, uncovered, for 25 minutes.