Friday, September 18, 2009

Baked Zucchini Parmesan

My journey as a cook in both restaurants and for myself began with Italian food. As a teenager, I worked at Mazzotta's Italian Kitchen and Bakery, making pizzas, calzones, and occasionally helping with the creation of chicken, veal and eggplant parmesan. Mazzotta's version involved dipping the key ingredient in flour, egg, seasoned bread crumbs and then in egg again and deep frying. Needless to say it was fantastic, although a heart attack waiting to happen!

Since then I have come to specialize in eggplant parmesan particularly for special occasions and enjoy setting aside an afternoon to follow the traditional steps of breading and frying the eggplant and then layering it with white sauce and parmesan cheese. Eggplant prepared in this manner transforms into a velvety richness that is exquisite.

However, as one of the unemployed of California I am eating what I have and gifted with two large zucchini I decided to try a zucchini parmesan. I can't believe I never thought to do this sooner! Zucchini, similar to eggplant, has a silky mellow taste when fried or broiled and it produced a superb parmesan.

Baked parmesan dishes are very forgiving of shortcuts, so I decided to forgo the frying step and broiled the zucchini instead. You don't want to broil too long, just enough to soften them (and a little charring is fine.) Because I didn't bread and fry the zucchini, I simply added the seasoned breadcrumbs as a layer, which is essential so that you have the effect of tomato sauce, breading, zucchini and cheese all baked together. Also, while I made a simple tomato sauce of sauteed onions and crushed tomatoes, feel free to use a plain store bought sauce, but stick with a tomato only or tomato and basil version.

Baked Zucchini Parmesan

2 large zucchini, sliced in 1/4 inch thick slabs
2 cups prepared tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (either buy them seasoned or add 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried garlic, ground)
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
1 cup parmesan, shredded
olive oil

Preheat broiler. Place zucchini on broil pan lined with foil and either spray with oil or drizzle oil on each slab and rub around; dust with salt and broil until tender and just beginning to brown (time depends on your broiler; mine took 15 minutes! but I think that's unusual. Keep an eye on them). Either heat tomato sauce from jar or make own sauce and keep warm. Once zucchini are broiled, remove from oven.

Preheat oven to 400. In casserole dish smear some tomato sauce around bottom. Line bottom with zucchini slices (you will make 2 layers so plan accordingly). Spoon tomato sauce over zucchini in thin layer, follow with layer of bread crumbs (there will be three layers of bread crumbs so plan accordingly). Spoon heavier layer of tomato sauce over all and then sprinkle half of each cheese over tomato sauce. Drizzle olive oil over all (Don't think to save calories by skipping this step; without it the dish is dry since the zucchini was not fried in oil). Repeat with a layer of zucchini, tomato sauce, bread crumbs, and cheese. Top with last bit of bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until top is browned.


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