I have been enjoying the novelty of Autumn leaves (after a 30+ year hiatus) in my new town of Sacramento. They’ve been very pretty, and I haven’t minded that I have to sweep my little Pyrex pan of a balcony every few days because it’s situated under a sycamore and hard by a couple of quaking aspens. It’s a small price to pay for the living-among-the-boughs, tree house-like feeling I get when I look out my windows.
As I was sweeping the balcony and scooping up leaves yesterday, I looked up and noticed the still bright-green fruit from the sycamore hanging down, like prickly golf balls. There were many dried, dark brown ones lying around at ground level, so I was surprised by how many were still green up in the branches. It made me remember how back in my Jr. High School days in Westchester County, NY, the boys used to whip the prickly brown fruit balls at each other at lunch time. They also had some game where they would line up in order to have their go at each punching the boy who was ‘it’ in the arm as he ran the gauntlet. Pubescent rituals. I didn’t try to understand.
It was in Westchester where I learned to love eggplant, and where my high school Italian language teacher taught us to salt the eggplant slices for a half hour before cooking, to draw out excess moisture. Eggplant came on the scene as a novelty. A vegetables that was not unwrapped as a frozen block, like chopped spinach or green beans that was the norm growing up. My mom made breaded, pan-sauteed rounds of it, and I made ratatouille and eggplant parmesan, all of which became part of our family’s veggie repertoire. Sadly, my system eventually developed an aversion to it, and I’ve been very allergic to eggplant since my twenties. The good news is zucchini doesn’t affect my system adversely at all, and while it’s not a common variation that I know of, I think it makes a really yummy parmesan.
I’ve been making zucchini parmesan fairly often as a dinner meal over the last few months. It works as a good dish for one because it’s easy to put together and there are leftovers for a nice second meal. The recipe can also be scaled up, of course, to serve a bigger group. A casserole to serve four is the scale I’ve presented below. Coming from Westchester, I have always been an Italianophile (it’s my theory that everyone in Southern NY who is not Italian wishes they were) and as much as possible grate my own parmesan cheese. It’s a small investment for enhancing one’s quality of life. I used to always get my reggiano parmigiano wedges at Costco, but I have not set foot in a Costco since the lockdown. It is the one shopping item that may draw me back in there, because I haven’t found a decent equivalent in other stores.
I also can offer this tip – for the first time I recently tried freezing the half jar of tomato sauce that I often have to throw away because you are supposed to eat the jarred sauce within a week after opening it. I often stretched that to 10 days or found myself throwing out half jars and feeling bad about it. But throwing the rest of the contents of the jar into a ziplock bag stashing it in the freezer, then defrosting it for my next batch of zucchini parmesan worked fine. You will also see from the picture below that when I make it for just me, I cook it in my trusty toaster oven. Try it as a nice change, and a warming winter dish. I hope you enjoy!
5 medium sized zucchini (1.5 -2 lbs., approx.)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs, pre-seasoned or add salt and garlic powder and oregano
3 cups Italian jarred tomato sauce (I like tomato basil or onion and roast garlic varieties)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded, or fresh ovaline, cut into small rounds
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
Prepare the zucchini by peeling and cutting into long flat strips. Salt on both sides and place on cutting board or colander to drain. (Give the zucchini about 15-20 minutes to “sweat.”)
Preheat oven to 350F.
Place the breadcrumbs and seasonings in a shallow bowl.
Prepare the baking or casserole pan (a 9”x 12” or a 9” round deep-dish pie pan) by rubbing a little bit of butter or oil on the bottom.
Dry the zucchini with a paper towel and roll each strip in breadcrumbs. (I do not use egg.)
Begin heating the vegetable or olive oil (I liked vegetable better, to my surprise) in a large saute pan. Fry the zucchini strips in two batches, turning once. They should not cook more than about 5 minutes. I recommend replacing the oil in between. Some breadcrumbs will usually remain behind and burn, and that will affect the second batch if left in the pan.
Pour a third of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish and layer half the zucchini strips on top. Add the next third of sauce, and the second half of the zucchini strips. Top with the rest of the sauce, ½ cup of shredded mozzarella or dot with slices of fresh. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheese becomes golden and the sauce bubbles.
Diane Wirtschafter said:
I enjoyed reading your Westchester memories, from our Italian teacher to the boys throwing the spiky fruits (I remember them calling “magic yo yos”)! It’s great to hear your voice!
Thank you, Diane! Magic yo yo’s. Hah, I probably knew that term for them once upon a time…
Fred Basch said:
Since I spent my college years studying anthropology I enjoy hearing about the youth of Westchester and their fruit tree rituals. I saved the recipe and look forward to making it soon.
I’m glad. They are a fascinating breed. 😉 Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you like the recipe! On another Westchester delicacy note, there is a pizza place near me that claims to make real cannoli and they do come pretty close – they only fill the shells at the time of the order, which is a big step in the right direction – BUT their cannoli forms were about as slender as a breadstick, so there was only a tablespoon of filling on each end but none in the middle. The search continues.