Sunday, April 20, 2008

Zucchini Under Glass

Despite the many times I was admonished not to experiment in the kitchen, I rarely listened. Enough successful outcomes have fueled my self-confidence, propelling me from one culinary adventure to another. Sometimes my bright, innovative food treatments are best not discussed, yet frequently experience pays off, and I can humbly proclaim my experiment a success.

This was one of those occasions when using what was on hand, in a creative way, produced a mouth-watering meal with a definite Mediterranean bent, though it did include a generous two teaspoons of red curry paste, for no other reason than I wanted to spike the mild, sweet vegetables with a bit of heat, and the opened curry paste was at hand. A bit of cayenne would do or a dash of chili powder would be fine, too.

What prompted this endeavor were four young, firm, green zucchini. I wondered what I could do with them that would turn a dollar's worth of produce into several tasty servings. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, basil, oregano — all pantry staples — seemed appropriate complements to the zucchini. I initially thought I'd give that combination a quick sauté in a little olive oil, layer it onto a sliced baguette, top the browned veggies with slices of mozzarella and toast it in the oven to melt the cheese. Not a bad idea. But it was just a glorified vegetarian sub.

My final decision was to layer the zucchini, onions and tomato in a baking dish, terrine style and serve it over a bed of jasmine rice. It turned out to be a good decision.

I started by sautéing a couple of cloves of minced garlic and a thinly sliced onion in olive oil. I had a little red curry paste in the fridge left from the last time I made curry, so I stirred a couple of heaping teaspoon into the onions and oil and let it cook down a bit, then added a good splash of water to get a little sauce going. As that simmered, I sliced the zucchinis and a big Ruskin beefsteak tomato. Using an oven proof glass casserole dish, once the onions had softened, and the curry paste was well blended with the oil and aromatics, I layered the onions, then the zucchini, then the tomatoes and added a layer of thinly sliced mozzarella cheese over the tomatoes and sprinkled a generous tablespoon of Italian herbs (just oregano would do) over the top before repeating with another tier of onions, zucchini and tomatoes. (Pour any leftover pan liquor from the onions over the tomatoes before proceeding with the next step.)

I topped this last layer of tomatoes with freshly grated Parmesan and then covered the whole dish with a layer of fresh whole wheat bread crumbs that had been tossed with a tablespoon of olive oil.

The casserole baked off, uncovered, at 375° for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile I steamed, to perfection, a little pot of jasmine rice.

The final dish turned out to be a great Saturday night supper with plenty of leftovers. Another example of whole foods simply prepared, yet turning a few farm fresh vegetables into fine fare, frugally.

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