This dish is sunshine on a plate. It’s an Italian classic: a casserole built up like lasagne, but using layers of courgette instead of pasta sheets. When you take a look on Italian cooking sites, you can see it being prepared in roughly two ways: red, using tomato sauce, and white, using béchamel. Since I’m not a big fan of béchamel sauce – it’s usually a bit too rich for my taste -, for me the choice for a fresh tomato sauce is an easy one.
In order to give the dish some extra structure and protein, making it suitable as a main dish in its own right, I added a layer of cottage cheese in the middle. Cottage cheese has a nice freshness and it’s light and rich in protein, but it’s also quite moist. The first time I tried this combination, I didn’t take this into account. The result was an oven dish filled with a creamy courgette and tomato soup….. A very tasty one – my daughter cleaned the bowl with her tongue -, but not something nice you’d like to serve to your guests. To avoid this problem, now when I make the parmigiana, I drain the cottage cheese in a sieve before using. If you’d want to skip the draining step, you could also replace the cottage cheese with ricotta, which is creamier and less moist. This creates a fool proof dish, but the result is a bit more rich and has less bite then the cottage cheese version. Which combination you prefer is a matter of taste. Following mine, I would say: the draining of the cottage cheese happens while you’re preparing the rest of the dish. This step doesn’t take any extra time and to me the nice result is more than worth the effort.
I give the recipe step by step, assuming that you griddle the courgette, prepare the tomato sauce en build up the casserole all on the day you want to serve the dish. When I prepare this for a working day dinner, I often make it in two goes: I griddle the courgette and prepare the tomato sauce on an evening I eat something quick and easy; this way on the following day I only need to prepare the cottage cheese and put the dish in the oven.
I took different pictures of this dish, because it can be served in different ways. For a weekday meal or a dinner with friends or family you can make it in a large baking dish, using courgettes that have been griddled in long slices. On festive occasions it can also be served in cocottes, with round courgette slices. On all occasions, its bright colours, hearty flavours and the large amount of fresh herbs make it a joy to the eye and to the taste buds.
Parmigiana di zucchine with cottage cheese – 4 p.
- 5 courgettes
- 600 g cottage cheese
- 2 onions
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2x 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp dark caster sugar
- 30 g basil
- 1 egg
- 15 g parsley, chopped
- 10 g chives, chopped
- 75 g freshly grated parmesan
- 300 g mozzarella
- 50 g pine nuts
Cut the courgettes lengthwise into slices of 5 mm thickness. Put the slices in layers in a colander and sprinkle each layer with salt. Leave the courgette to drain for half an hour.
Spoon the cottage cheese into a sieve, put it over a bowl and leave the cheese to drain until you’re ready to use it.
In the mean time, start preparing the tomato sauce.
Finely chop the onions and garlic. Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic and cook them on a low heat until soft. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, vinegar and sugar. Cover the pan and simmer for a few minutes. Then take off the lid and simmer until the sauce has reduced by a third. Keep a few of the basil leaves for garnishing and finely chop the rest. Add the basil to the tomato sauce, season with salt and black pepper and turn off the heat.
Heat a large griddle pan until hot. Thoroughly rinse the courgette strips in running water and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Brush them with olive oil, then griddle, in portions, for a few minutes both sides until char lines appear.
Whisk the egg in a large bowl. Add the drained cottage cheese and parmesan and mix well. Stir through the chives and parsley and season with black pepper.
Slice the mozzarella.
Heat the oven to 200oC/400F/Gas 6. Lightly oil a deep 25×30 cm baking dish.
Divide half of the tomato sauce in the base of the dish, then cover with strips of courgette. Spoon over the cottage cheese mixture and sprinkle it with half of the pine nuts. Make a second layer of courgette, then cover it with the mozzarella slices. Finish with the remaining courgette slices and top them with the second half of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts.
Cover the dish with aluminium foil and bake it for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and return the dish to the oven for another 20 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the pine nuts are golden brown.
Scatter over the reserved basil leaves and serve with ciabatta.