We don’t have an upscale kitchen (a relic of 1979), and the ingredients we cook with are simple – but we have purpose in our little kitchen and we are cookin’ this summer. Do you like the scrumptious yumminess of Eggplant Parmesan? This dish is similar, but BETTER, and made with, the season’s most prolific queen of vegetables, zucchini. We made this nutritious, crunchy, cheesy, layered, vegetarian dish with an enormous zucchini from the Anton Zucchini plant in our vegetable garden built this spring with help from family members and from our church family at Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma (podcast to follow soon).
The recipe has its own history, coming from our favorite hardbound cookbook, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur. With Berkley’s roasted tomato, garlic, and basil sauce, this dish reached its full potential; however, feel free to use what works for you – a jar of your favorite tomato sauce will do just fine.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 14-oz can plum tomatoes with juice
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 medium (or one GIANT) zucchini
Salt (we use Kosher salt) and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion (we use red onion in this dish), halved then sliced thinly
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1/3 cup homemade fresh bread crumbs (we added about ½ teaspoon dried basil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt to 4 pieces of lightly toasted bread ground in the food processor, but you can use or your favorite ready-made brand).
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375F.
For the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, whole tomatoes with juice, and sprig of rosemary. Gently crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Swirl the water in the can to pick up the last of the tomato juices and add to the pan. Decrease the heat and gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until thick and jamlike. Season to taste with salt and pepper (we add a sprinkle of chili flakes). Discard the rosemary sprig. This sauce can be made 4 days in advance or frozen and used later.
Trim the zucchini (at the ends) and slice lengthwise into 4 or 5 ribbons each. (If using a GIANT zucchini, cut in half first, then slice lengthwise.) Season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or cast-iron pan (we used a cast-iron skillet). Add the zucchini, in batches, and fry until browned on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to soak up some of the oil (we placed it directly into our baking dish). Cut each piece in half, crosswise (we didn’t need to do this).
In a separate skillet (we used the same cast-iron skillet for everything), heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt; transfer to a small bowl (we just added the onions on top of the zucchini in the baking dish).
In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat. Stir in the bread crumbs and cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley.
Arrange the zucchini in a 2 quart baking dish (we doubled the recipe and used two baking dishes), overlapping the slices to make one dense layer. Top with the onion mixture and cover with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese, then with the bread crumbs. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 45 minutes (we baked for 25 minutes). Remove the foil and bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer, until golden brown on top.