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Zucchini makes triumphant return to dining | WHIDBEY RECIPES

Far be it from me to disappoint regular readers, from whom I’ve already had a few e-mails regarding this topic, so I think you know what today is all about. If it’s late August, it’s time for, (fanfare please), THE BIG Z column.

Yesterday, I plucked three medium-sized from my one and only zucchini plant. In the past, we’ve always planted two or three and, of course, always ended up with far too much of the big Z. This year, because I’m now alone, I decided one plant would be sufficient and, guess what? I have too much, already, with more coming on.

I find ways to use it: zucchini marmalade, zucchini bread, zucchini cake, etc. etc., and I never stop looking for new, creative ways to use zucchini. No, I don’t put them on neighbors’ doorsteps, because they have their own overload going on, nor do I surreptitiously sneak them into the back seat of unlocked cars, both of which are old zucchini legends. I do, however, give them away whenever possible, and take excess to the food bank, but it’s nevertheless a challenge when I realize that six more sleek green gourds are ready and waiting to be picked.

All joking aside about our ubiquitous August zucchini, it is worth noting that this much maligned vegetable is actually high on “good for you” lists. Virtually no fat, no cholesterol, some calcium, a little iron, potassium, and a goodly amount of Vitamin A. No sodium, except what you add when cooking, and enough variety in ways to utilize zucchini to fill a cookbook with nothing but zucchini recipes.

Before we get to recipes, though, let me remind you that you can always resort to grating/shredding your excess zucchini and freezing it, to pull out during the winter months and turn into zucchini bread, cake, muffins or cookies, or add to a winter soup or vegetable casserole. Zucchini=versatility.

So, bring on your zucchini; we’re prepared for the onslaught of the Big Z, aren’t we?

RECIPES

Zucchini is a vegetarian’s delight, simply because it is a vegetable of many uses, and even non-vegetarians will enjoy so many delicious zucchini dishes, such as this rather spectacular, “special event” vegetarian treat. The recipe is easier than it looks and is worth every moment.

MILE HIGH LASAGNA PIE

2 T. olive oil

3 carrots, finely chopped

1 medium zucchini (or two smaller), finely chopped (or about 2 ½ cups)

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (or about 8 oz.)

12 oz. pre-washed baby spinach

2 T. snipped fresh basil

1 beaten egg

15 oz. ricotta cheese

1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

½ t. each salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1 jar (26 oz.) tomato-basil pasta sauce (your favorite purchased, or homemade)

14 lasagna noodles, pre-cooked according to pkg. instructions

2 cups shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet, heat 1 T. of the oil over med.-high heat. Add carrots, zucchini, and half of the garlic. Cook and stir for about 5 min. or until crisp tender. Transfer to a bowl. Heat remaining oil in same skillet; add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Cook and stir about 5 min. or until tender. Gradually add spinach (it will cook down quickly). Cook and stir for 1-2 min. or until spinach is wilted. Using slotted spoon, transfer spinach mixture to med. bowl; stir in basil. In a bowl, combine egg, ricotta, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

To assemble the dish, spread ½ cup of the pasta sauce in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Arrange 3-4 of the lasagna noodles over the sauce, trimming and overlapping as necessary to cover the sauce with one layer. Top with half of the spinach mixture. Top this with half the ricotta mixture. Top with another layer of noodles. Spread with half the remaining sauce. Top with all of the zucchini-carrot mixture and sprinkle with half of the fontina or mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of lasagna noodles. Layer with remaining spinach mixture and ricotta mixture. Top with another layer of noodles and remaining sauce (you might have some noodles left over). Gently press down pie with the back of a spatula.

Place springform pan on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 hr. or until heated through, topping with the remaining fontina or mozzarella cheese for the last 15 min. of baking. Cover and let stand on a wire rack for about 15 min. before serving. Cut around side of pan with a sharp knife and carefully remove side. Serve warm or cool. Serves 10; refrigerate any leftovers.

We all know that roasting fresh vegetables in the midst of the summer largesse is but one of summer’s delights. This Italian treat is not only a fine vegetarian main dish, but an outstanding side dish for fish, fowl, veal or lamb.

ROASTED VEGETABLES PARMIGIANA

2 zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 red or green sweet pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

8 oz. fresh mushrooms (stems removed, if desired)

2 T. olive oil

½ t. fresh rosemary, crushed

¼ t. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas), rinsed and drained

1 can (14 oz.) Italian style stewed tomatoes, not drained

1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (more, if desired)

1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesano Reggiano cheese

In a large roasting pan, combine zucchini, summer squash, sweet pepper and mushrooms, Drizzle the mixture with olive oil; sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper. Toss lightly to coat.

Roast in a preheated 450 degree oven for 12 min. Remove from oven. Gently stir in garbanzo beans and undrained tomatoes. Return to oven and roast about another 5 min. or more, just until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Transfer vegetable mixture to a serving dish; sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

And finally, one very basic, easy, simply delicious zucchini side dish:

ZUCCHINI ALLA ROMANA

1 T. olive oil

2-4 garlic cloves, minced (I use max; you use what you like)

4 med. zucchini, sliced (or about 4 cups)

1 T. snipped fresh mint or basil, your preference (or 1 t. crushed, dried of either)

Dash of black pepper

2 T. finely shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, heat oil over med. heat. Add garlic; cook for ½ min., then add zucchini, mint or basil, salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, over med. heat about 5 min., or until zucchini is crisp tender, stirring occasionally.

To serve, sprinkle with Romano or Parmesan cheese and fresh mint or basil. Serves 6.

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