Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Finding Myself at Home with Zucchini Casserole
Let us put awhile away/ All the cares of work-a-day,/For a golden time forget,/ Task and worry, toil and fret,/ Let us take a day to dream/ In the meadow by the stream.
-L.M. Montgomery ("A Day Off")
I don't know if it's being home or if it's the summer, but, whatever it is, it's led to a nice feeling of a perhaps well-deserved lethargy. It's not even that I'm not working; work is always being done in some way, shape, or form. It's more that the work is being done oh so slowly and that, to a certain extent, I find myself distracted by all the little things that invite me to take a walk down memory lane: pictures from high school, old tubes of lipstick that I used to adore, books I used to read over and over again, drawers of flash cards from when I studied French and, from the college years and my summer at Middlebury, stacks of Russian ones, too.
Even when I nobly decided to take it upon myself to rearrange some of my mother's kitchen drawers, where recipe cut-outs from magazines are mixed into a folder with recipe cards that were once passed amongst friends, I found myself distracted by the recipes. I remembered the times we would make broccoli and cheese casserole--I would insist on this for dinner at least once a week in high school--, the family's discovery of a creamy shrimp soup, cookies that one of my grandmother's friends brought to my graduation party and that I was so in love with, she would send some for Christmas every year after that. Instead of cleaning, what I ultimately did was to arrange the recipes I wanted to copy for myself (see how quickly a noble goal becomes a self-serving one? Thus, the fate of politicians was enacted in my own kitchen and on a completely harmless scale!). But it was worth it: being home, I see all the things I've taken with me and am reminded of all the things that I've inadvertently--even somewhat unknowingly--left behind.
One good example of this occurred when the Greek was still here and, after all of our traveling, he, my mother and I made a huge dinner of grilled steak, salad and several vegetable sides. I was again confronted by the zucchini casserole that both my grandmother and mother used to make in my childhood. Let me confess that I never much cared for this casserole. I would occasionally eat it somewhat half-heartedly, but the only time I ever remember valiantly trying to like it was when I was going through a brief stint as a thirteen-year-old vegetarian...
Clearly, my tastes have matured because this time around I almost ate the whole pan. Revisiting this dish, I don't know what my teenage self could have had against mushrooms, onion, zucchini, green pepper covered in tomato sauce and cheese, but I'm really glad that my taste-buds have come around to reason. The combination of vegetables complement each other perfectly and what you end up with is something resembling a summer pizza, but without the crust. It's a feast of summer squash (oh, zucchini, how I love thee! Making this was like the third installment of last summer's zucchini fest and the crazy zucchini cherry cake that emerged from it) with everything else making what seems like a brief guest appearance...So, without further ado, from my family's kitchen to yours, I offer you a hearty and gloriously delicious vegetable casserole that can be made in next to no time at all!
Makes 6-12 servings, depending on whether it's your main course or just a side; I prefer it as a side, but it can go either way
I should add that the great thing about this recipe, like with most casseroles, is that you can make it according to your own tastes. If you prefer red pepper to green, go for it! Want to add some spicy Italian sausage? My grandma has done this countless times. There's also the option of using a different cheese, adding breadcrumbs, etc., etc. Feel free to play with this.
3 large zucchini, diced and with the seeds removed
8 large mushrooms, chopped into small chunks
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, either put through the garlic or chopped finely
1 large green pepper, chopped and with the seeds removed
12 ounces tomato sauce
5-6 ounces grated brick cheese
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
a sprinkling of Pecorino-Romano cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
-Preheat the oven to 350.
-Clean and chop and/or dice the zucchini, mushrooms, onion, garlic, green pepper.
-Lightly salt and pepper (N.B. due to the two cheeses, you don't want it to be too salty, especially if you use Pecorino-Romano like we did. This is a much saltier cheese than Parmesan.)
-In a 9x12 baking dish, mix the first five ingredients together.
-Pour the olive oil over them and mix so that they are evenly coated.
-Then add the tomato sauce and mix together.
-Sprinkle the Pecorino-Romano cheese over the vegetables.
-Bake for 30 minutes.
-At this stage, you should add the grated brick cheese to the top of the casserole.
-Bake for 15-20 minutes more, until the cheese is melted and the vegetables tender.
-Enjoy it while it's still hot!