This has been the summer of the zucchini. With my Tuv Ha’aretz CSA deeply affected both by the Northeast tomato blight and the heavy early season rains, most of what we have gotten this summer has been some form of zucchini or summer squash. It’s light and delicious, but it has been hard to come up with new and exciting ways to cook it. I’ve made several batches of chocolate chip zucchini bread. I cooked up an enormous batch of Tamar Fox’s delicious ratatouille and used it as a very filling pasta sauce. We’ve had zucchini kugel and squash soup and squash salad (including a less than successful Israeli squash salad with olives), and a very yummy Tuscan squash torte from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. An experiment with summer squash latkes taught me the important lesson that for everything but zucchini bread, salting the vegetable and draining the water off will create a much better and crisper result (a lesson I learned too late to save my soggy latkes).
Running out of ideas, I sent out an urgent plea for recipes to my Facebook friends, who suggested grilled zucchini, zucchini crust pizza, stuffed zucchini of various kinds, roasted and sauteed zucchini (including with fresh corn), and squash pie. I also received the helpful suggestion to read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, in which they manage to add zucchini to just about everything. Useful ideas, but I can’t imagine eating more zucchini this summer, let alone another CSA summer of zucchini next year. A friend of mine in the Twin Cities is overwhelmed with cabbage and kohlrabi (the result of too little rain). I hear another NYC-area CSA is overflowing with fava beans. Those sound great to me–can we trade? But of course, that would defeat the purpose of eating sustainably and locally.
As one of my CSA buddies points out, this is part of the education process of a CSA: learning to eat what is growing best locally, given local farming conditions, rather than whatever our hearts desire. 100 years ago, unused to modern variety, we would have seen all this zucchini as an amazing blessing.
Last summer, I made a recipe from the New York Times for zucchini pasta with fresh tomato sauce. This summer, I decided to take it to the next level and turn it into a lasagna. All ingredients here are adaptable to taste and what you have around. I purposely made more fresh tomato sauce than I needed so that I would have extra to freeze.
Summer Squash Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce
2-3 medium size zucchini or summer squash, or 1-2 large
1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
1 3/4 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup (or more to taste) grated fresh Parmesan
1-2 cups chopped fresh basil
4 large ripe tomatoes (or whatever you have on hand–I threw in a bunch of cherry tomatoes that needed to be eaten), chopped coarsely.
2-3 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon dried chile pequins (a Mexican chile with a smoky flavor. Penzy’s sells them, if you can’t find them locally. Red pepper flakes can be substituted but the taste will be different)
1) Using a vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini into lengthwise ribbons, turning as you go. Slice any unused ends or core thinly. Lightly salt and allow to drain for at least half an hour. Pat dry with paper towel.
2) While the squash drains, make the tomato sauce (this step can be done in advance). Saute the garlic in the olive oil until just gold. Add the chiles and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes to the pan, bring to a boil, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes or so until it taste done to your taste. Carefully puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Add salt if necessary.
3) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Layer a 9/13 baking dish with alternate layers of zucchini, sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan, and basil, using the zucchini as you would noodles. You should have enough for 3 layers. Sprinkle extra cheese on top. Bake until bubbly on top and the cheese begins to brown, about 30-40 minutes. The result may be somewhat watery, but it is very yummy!