So, as I may have mentioned before, I’m not much of a gardener. I have a tiny plot behind my house that we plant tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini each year hoping we’ll get a harvest. The problem is that no one in my house (including me) wants to do the work of taking care of the garden — so it gets weedy, overgrown, and just plain unruly.
The thing is that every year we dutifully weed the bed, hand-till it, compost it, plant it, water it… and forget-about-it! Still every year we seem to get at least some produce from the untended mess of plants — so every year we vow to do better at tending and cultivating our micro-farm. This year we planted late (again) and dealt with the early summer drought (and the lack of human attention) to gain several dozen really beautiful tomatoes, zero peppers, and about eight overgrown zucchini… I mean the giant, monster squash that comes from checking the garden only once every two weeks.
With all that being said, I still like to find a way of using these overgrown summer staples.
Which brings me to today’s post Zucchini “Lasagna.” This past week I’ve had four giant zucchini taking up room on my kitchen counter and I needed to do something with them. So I tried to pass them on… but most people I know around here have their own zucchini to bestow on others, so it was up to me.
I wanted to make something with sauce and cheese, so I decided to make a “lasagna” with my zucchini. I like the idea of baking the zucchini with ricotta and mozzarella layers to hold it together — my family voted for a ground beef layer, so I made the zucchini “lasagna” in the same fashion as traditional lasagna at Lista’s Italian Cuisine (see my post Lasagna Bolognese? from July 27, 2017). After slicing the zucchini, I layered it with sauce, ricotta cheese, meat sauce, and lots of mozzarella and Romano cheeses. Then baked it for about 90 minutes — let it set for another 30 minutes and topped it with a little more sauce and a sprinkle of grated Romano. Delizioso!
Please Note: my zucchini lasagna was a bit of a fail for me. It came out very watery after it was baked (you can see it in the last photo above). The problem was I didn’t slice the zucchini thin enough and I didn’t take time to prep the zucchini “noodles” with salt or heat to dry them out. After I let it rest for 30 minutes before serving, the moisture accumulated in the pan and I was able to lift out a slice and then carefully drain much of the water out of the pan (I did this 2-3 times while serving) so the servings held up nicely and the extra moisture was minimized. And overall it was very tasty and my family enjoyed it.
So after the fact I did a little reading and found some tips to avoid the moisture problem: 1. Slice your zucchini very thin (use a mandolin slicer) perhaps lengthwise… and layer the sliced zucchini on a double thickness of paper towels and lightly salt it (salt draws out moisture) and let it sit for several minutes. Then pat the slices dry with more paper towels before assembling the lasagna.
2. Another method is to bake the thinly sliced zucchini (with or without salting it) in the oven to dry it out before making the lasagna.
3. I read one recipe where the author added some dry quinoa to the bottom of the pan which will absorb some of the moisture. This method is appealing to me since I prefer not to use salt.
If, like me, you typically cook by experimentation then give one of the methods a try… or maybe you’ll discover your own way of avoiding the excess moisture.
Dan’s Zucchini “Lasagna”
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 60-90 minutes
Rest time: 30 minutes
2 extra large or 4 small Zucchini – sliced thin
1 lb. Ground Beef
1/2 med Onion – finely chopped
1/2 cup Seasoned Bread Crumbs (optional)
16 oz. Ricotta Cheese
1 TBSP Dry Parsley Flakes
1 cup Grated Romano Cheese – divided
2 cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
4-6 cups Prepared Pasta Sauce – divided
Salt and Black Pepper – to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F with the rack in the center. Coat a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray (like Pam).
2. Slice the zucchini very thin and remove some of the moisture using one of the methods mentioned above — or wing it like I did.
3. In a skillet, brown the ground beef and chopped onion over med-high heat until no longer pink. Drain and return to pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add bread crumbs and 2 cups prepared sauce and stir to combine. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl scramble the eggs, dry parsley, and 1/2 cup Romano together, stir in the ricotta cheese until thoroughly combined. Season with black pepper and set aside.
5. Layer the “lasagna” in the baking pan as follows: Spread one cup prepared sauce in the bottom of the baking pan. Layer sliced zucchini overlapping as needed to cover the bottom of pan. Spread the meat sauce mixture evenly over the zucchini, and sprinkle evenly with about 2/3 cup mozzarella. Add another layer of zucchini. Spread the ricotta cheese mixture evenly over top, and sprinkle another 2/3 cup mozzarella over the ricotta. Top with another layer of zucchini, spread the last cup prepared sauce over that and sprinkle the last 2/3 cup mozzarella over that. With your hand, press down the “lasagna” layers to make sure there are no air gaps.
6. Bake the “lasagna” uncovered in heated oven for 60-90 minutes until hot and bubbly and center reaches 180 F with a thermometer. Cover loosely with foil during last half of cooking if top gets too brown.
7. Remove from oven and allow to rest about 30 minutes before serving.
8. Cut “lasagna” portions with a sharp knife and lift out with a spatula. Top with additional pasta sauce and grated Romano cheese if desired.
There you have it, my Zucchini “Lasagna” — a great way to use up those giant zucchinis in your garden (or the ones your friend tries to pawn off on you). This recipe would work just as well with yellow summer squash, eggplant, or a combination.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”