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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zucchini Part I--As a Main Dish





We have all heard the jokes about the orphaned bags of zucchini left on the doorstep overnight, but I had a very nice experience a week or so ago. There at the door were my master gardener neighbors, offering up a beautifully arranged basket of zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers they were offering to share with the rest of us on the street.

Selecting a lavishly striped zucchini for my share, I added it to the yellow squash that are actually doing quite nicely in my own garden this year. Then, only a few days later, my daughter arrived from eastern Wisconsin with a large bag of more zucchini and cucumbers from her master gardener uncle. What a bounty!

A couple of years ago, I found the cookbook pictured above at a garage sale, a real bargain for only 50 cents. The cookbook is self-published--looking like a church cookbook with that same kind of plastic binding--with almost 300 pages of recipes for...zucchini. Yup, every single one of them includes zucchini. Sliced zucchini, grated zucchini, pureed zucchini, even zucchini juice. Main dishes, breads, salads, preserves, desserts, they're all there. Will I ever use all of them? Of course not. The zucchini juice section seems a little more work than I'm ready for, and the cake section seems to go over the top at times. Still, the book has been a great idea starter and a good supplement to some of the things I already do with these squashes.

And I have been "doing." Here and in the next couple of posts, I'll be sharing some old and new ways that I have found to use up these free foods--and you can't get much more frugal than free, can you!

For starters, let's go with lasagna. While this includes browning the zucchini in olive oil, the recipe itself is still a little lighter than most because of the "missing" pasta, use of fat free yogurt instead of ricotta, and the absence of meat. I've been making my adaptation of a recipe from Jane Brody's Good Food Book for over 25 years, and it still makes people happy when it is served. It's especially good when we have these giant zucchinis from the garden, though smaller ones available other times of the year can also be used.

Zucchini Lasagna
Enough for a 9 X 13 or 11 or 12 inch square pan

2 large or 3 to 4 medium zucchini--the zucchini will shrink a little while sauteeing so be sure you have enough!
2 to 3 T flour
3 T corn meal
salt or seasoning salt--about 1/4 to 1/3 t
olive or canola oil
2 c nonfat plain yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 t garlic powder
Italian seasoning and/or oregano to taste
1 can or jar, 26 to 28 ounces, spaghetti sauce
8 oz tomato sauce
additional herbs (I like a little basil and additional oregano) or garlic powder as desired
8 ounces grated mozzarella or "Italian blend" cheese
approximately 1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

1. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into quarter inch thick slices. If desired, sprinkle lightly with salt and place in a colander for about 20 to 30 minutes. Before dipping in the flour mixture in step 2, squeeze them lightly to extract more liquid. (This is not a required step, but it does help make them brown more quickly and evenly.)

2. In a large frying pan, heat just enough oil to thinly cover the bottom. Meanwhile, combine the flour, cornmeal, and salt in a flat dish. Dip the zucchini slices in the flour mixture, coating each side well. When the oil is just shimmering, put the zucchini slices in and cook over medium high heat, turning to brown both sides. You will need to work in batches, so take the first slices out and put them on a platter lined with a paper towel. Add a bit of oil to the pan as needed and continue sauteeing the slices until they are all just golden. Do not overcook or they will be too soft to handle easily.

3. Combine the yogurt, eggs, garlic powder, oregano, and Italian seasoning and mix well. In a separate container, combine the spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce and any additional herbs or seasonings as desired.

4. Now the layering begins! Spread a small amount of the tomato mixture over the bottom of the pan, covering it thoroughly. Then cover this with a third of the zucchini slices, pressing them close together so the bottom of the pan is well covered. Spread with half the yogurt mixture and then about a third of the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with a third of the mozzarella cheese.

Repeat the layers--another third of the zucchini, the rest of the yogurt, another third of the tomato sauce, and a third of the mozzarella. Complete the layering with one more layer of zucchini covered with the rest of the tomato sauce and then the remaining mozzarella. The final topping is the Parmesan, spread evenly over the entire dish.

5. Bake the lasagna in a 350 degree oven about 45 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly and the top is golden. If it seems to be getting too brown too quickly, you can cover it loosely with foil for the last 15 minutes or so.

6. As with all lasagnas, allow this to sit for 15 to 20 minutes after taking it out of the oven so that it will cut and serve more easily. This easily serves 8 people. Leftovers reheat well in the microwave or can be frozen.


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