Do any of you listen to Radiolab on NPR? Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad host the popular radio show about the spellbinding intersection of life, science and technology. It’s the only reason I look forward to getting into my car on weekends.
I’ll confess that on any Sunday afternoon, you might find me driving around aimlessly or parked in the garage, just so I can finish the riveting hour. Last month, the program tackled a fascinating topic: Who Am I?
Not to get indulgently existential here (you were hoping for a recipe, not philosophy!), but somehow the show got me thinking about cooking.
After exploring the brain and how it functions, the discussion turned to something that makes us uniquely human: our ability to tell our story. The hosts conclude it is this story, our personal narrative — an ever-evolving compilation of our life experiences — that defines who we are.
Lately, I have been thinking about my own story. It’s a collection of freeze frames from my forty-ish years and naturally, it is richly flavored with food. From my childhood and teenage years, schools, travels, work in restaurant kitchens, teaching classes, and meals with family and friends, food has been part of who I am since the beginning.
What does all this rambling have to do with Zucchini Parmesan, you’re wondering. Not much, unless your brain likes to meander like mine.
When I was trying to come up with a dish to make for my mother-in-law last week (in case you’re new to this blog, she comes over for dinner every Tuesday), I found a few floppy zucchini in the drawer. There was a full container of cilantro pesto (my kids didn’t go for it) and some leftover tomato sauce that I had made after buying too many tomatoes for a cooking class. Could I use them all in a tasty new way? You’re beginning to see how my brain works.
I threw together all the leftover bits and baked them in the oven until they bubbled. Instead of breading and frying the zucchini (which get soggy anyway under all that goopy cheese), I used a handful of chunky breadcrumbs for the topping. I chose organic shredded mozzarella rather than the fresh kind to eliminate excess moisture. It was a fresh take on eggplant parmesan, lightened up just in time for summer.
It’s one of those Farmgirl-simple, deliciously honest dishes that I hope you’ll be making all summer.
That’s my story, and for now, I’m sticking with it.
¾ cup homemade breadcrumbs or your favorite packaged brand
½ cup parmesan cheese (or this non-dairy substitute)
1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese (or 3 ounces drained firm organic tofu)
¼ cup your favorite fresh pesto
3 medium zucchini (about 1 ½ pounds), sliced ¼-inch thick ( this is what I use to make slicing a snap)
2 tablespoons (my current fave for high heat cooking) avocado oil or local olive oil
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar (you can use regular balsamic but the zucchini will lose their nice green color)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
¼ cup fresh basil pesto
1 cup of homemade tomato sauce or your favorite bottled version
1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the Parmesan cheese. In another small bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese with the pesto (if using tofu, combine in a blender or food processor). Set both aside.
2. In a 9-inch cast-iron pan or oven-proof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat (divide the oil and cook in two batches if necessary). Add the zucchini and sauté, stirring occasionally, until beginning to color and soften, seasoning with salt and pepper, about 6 minutes. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar and continue cooking until dry, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cooked zucchini to a plate temporarily.
3. Wipe out the pan. Spread half the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place the cooked zucchini on top, then follow with the ricotta mixture, remaining tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Top with the cheesy crumbs.
4. Cover lightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until browned. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before slicing.
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