I have to be honest, this recipe did not turn out the way I expected. Earlier this week I realized that I had been overenthusiastic in the zucchini-buying department and needed to do something with the half dozen small ones that were left, fast. I remembered my childhood in the Chicago suburbs and how my grandmother and my mother always ended up growing five times as many zucchini as a town of 13,500 could eat. And so I thought I would use one of the many zucchini-based recipes they turned to in times of need.
I pulled my grandmother's cookbook from the shelf and leafed to the letter z in the index. (My mother and my cousin Laura gathered together Grandma Kehoe's recipes and made bound cookbooks for every member of the family a few years ago: I highly recommend this great idea and wish I had thought to do the same with my Austrian grandmother's recipes before it was too late.) Anyway, back to the letter z: two recipes. Zucchini lasagne and zucchini bread. Being more in the mood for something savory, I turned to the zucchini lasagne page.
Like many enthusiastic chefs, one of my greatest failings is that I can't leave a good recipe alone. Even though my grandmother was a very good cook and knew how to make a very good zucchini lasagne, I, of course, must know better.
So instead of boiling the zucchini before using it (as the recipe indicated) I decided to grill it. Instead of a boring old tomato sauce, I decided to use the remains of the roasted tomato sauce I made earlier in the week. And once I looked at these two components, I decided that meat would be superfluous as I had plenty of flavor here. You see where this is going, don't you? Soon we will have not a single ingredient in common with the original recipe. And yes, there was one more to change but it wasn't entirely my fault: cottage cheese is not easily found here in Paris and so I substituted ricotta.
In the end, the dish I made was almost-but-not-entirely-unlike zucchini lasagne and so I had to find a new name. Strata means layer in Italian (or so my Italian cookbook tells me) and so that is the description I decided to use for this lovely vegetarian side dish.
Zucchini and Roasted Tomato Strata
6 small zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup roasted tomato sauce
1/2 a small onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 small buffala mozzarella
1/3 cup ricotta
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Slice the zucchini lengthwise in strips about 3/4 cm (1/2") thick and brush them with some of the olive oil. Put them on a hot grill and cook on each side until tender. Spread some of the remaining olive oil in the bottom of a small roasting pan. Prepare the cheeses: grate or thinly slice the mozzarella and mix the ricotta with the egg. Mix the spices into the tomato sauce and taste for salt, pepper and spices.
Put on layer of zucchini in the bottom of the roasting dish and dribble tomato sauce over the strips. Scatter some of the onion, a bit of mozzarella and then dribble some of the ricotta and egg mixture. Continue layering zucchini with the other elements until you have used up all the ingredients (hopefully evenly).
Put in the oven at 200C/380F and bake until brown and crispy on top and bubbly at the edges. (I can hear Barrett in the background saying something about a blond on the beach with a glass of champagne...)
Let the dish cool for ten minutes or so before serving so that it can rest.
So there you have it. Technically it's not a strata because it's missing the bread and the egg is not prominent. But then it's not really a lasagne either. It does have lovely layers, though, and the leftovers will make a healthy, tasty lunch for me tomorrow.
And next time I promise to let you in on the secret of my grandmother's zucchini lasagne, which does - miraculously - taste of lasange. You don't think I would have eaten it as a kid if it didn't did you??