Retro Favorites #1 ~ Zucchini Casserole

I thought for the next few posts I would step away from Lista’s Italian Cuisine recipes and focus on some stories of my favorite home recipes from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I loved watching those early TV cooking shows on PBS. I faithfully watched “The French Chef” with Julia Child and “The Galloping Gourmet” with Graham Kerr. I really liked to watch the cooking segments with Chef Tell Erhardt (“very simple, very easy”) on the “Dialing for Dollars” and “PM Magazine” TV shows. And I continued to watch as a young adult in the 80’s with shows like “Louisiana Cookin'” with Justin Wilson; “Yan Can Cook” with Martin Yan, and “The Fugal Gourmet” with Jeff Smith. For me, the TV was not only a source of entertainment, but was also a way to learn new and different ways to prepare foods. So I did a lot of cooking as a kid, mostly because I wanted to be like my Dad, but also because I loved food, enjoyed cooking and liked trying new recipes and, as it turns out, I became a pretty darn good cook. 

My family was always very supportive when I would try out a new TV recipe or technique. One of my favorite memories from those days was when my Dad brought home a whole suckling pig so I could roast it the way Julia Child did on her TV show. But then there was the time I watched a show where the chef (probably Graham Kerr) prepared polenta in the “rustic fashion” by pouring the cornmeal mush on a wooden board and then topping it with tomato sauce, vegetables, and bits of meat. I think the idea was that the family would sit around the table and scoop up forkfuls of polenta hoping to be first to get some of the meat. I begged Grandma Lista to make it for me. “You won’t like it,” she kept saying, but I pleaded until she relented and made the dish. It looked great — so authentic; very old world… yeah, I didn’t like it.

One of the very first things I remember cooking for my family was Italian Zucchini Casserole. Actually I don’t remember where I learned the recipe but it was probably while watching one of those cooking shows. Or maybe it was one of those things that happened by necessity — as I recall we always seemed to have a lot of those giant over grown zucchini people give you. I think we were getting tired of making batch after batch of zucchini bread… zucchini muffins… and zucchini snack cake. So somewhere along the line I learned how to use the zucchini for something other than baked goods. 

Italian Zucchini Casserole

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8 servings

Cooking Spray (such as Pam)
2 large or 6 small Zucchini – shredded (about 6 cups)
1 medium Onion – finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 TBSP Butter 

3 large Eggs – lightly beaten
1 cup Ricotta Cheese

1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs (divided)
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning

For Topping:
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
2 TBSP Melted Butter
1/4 tsp Paprika

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9x13x2″ baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Shred unpeeled zucchini using the large holes of a box grater or food processor to yield about 6 cups. Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then squeeze out the extra moisture. Place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Heat 2 TBSP butter in a medium skillet and cook the diced onions until tender — about 5 minutes. Add cooked onions, beaten eggs, ricotta, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup Romano cheese, black pepper and Italian seasoning to the zucchini and toss until combined. Spoon 
evenly into the prepared baking dish.
4. In a small bowl combine the remaining 2 TBSP butter, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup Romano cheese and paprika — blend until crumbly.  Sprinkle evenly over the zucchini casserole.
5. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 45 minutes until casserole is firm and browned on top. Remove from oven and let set for a few minutes before serving.

There you have it, Italian Zucchini Casserole, circa 1974. It works great as a side dish or as a brunch item. So the next time one of your neighbors or coworkers brings in those late harvest over grown zucchinis I hope you give this recipe a try.

Thank you all for following my blog.  Thanks for “liking” us here and on Facebook — and leaving your comments — we love hearing from you.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

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