I went out to my garden this morning and found my zucchini seem to have doubled in size since yesterday. How many of you have had the same experience, or perhaps a kind neighbor willing to share some of their homegrown crops? Zucchini and its cousin yellow squash come in all different shapes and sizes. But no matter what variety I plant, one thing can be sure: I will end up with more zucchini than I can use in my favorite zucchini bread recipe.
The internet is a gold mine of with zucchini recipes. Whether it be fritters, cakes, and casseroles zucchini seem to be pretty versatile. It was during my hunt for new ways to use my zucchini when my daughter shared a recipe she had recently made for Baked Zucchini Parmesan. The thought of crispy breading and gooey cheese was quick to get my attention.
I love a good chicken Parmesan -- tender chicken coated in crispy deep fried breading covered with marinara sauce and melted mozzarella cheese -- yum. The "deep fried" part keeps me from enjoying this very often, so the thought of using my bumper crop of zucchini in a baked version sounded like a risk worth taking. However, I will admit my initial try at the dish was not the best, as I rushed through the key breading process, skipping an important step in the recipe. I share this in hopes you learn from my mistake.
My first attempt resulted in pieces of zucchini with a thin layer of moisture between the coin and breading, causing the breading to not adhere to the zucchini resulting in a slippery mess. The good news is, this was easy to fix and my second try worked perfectly.
Anyone who has grated a zucchini knows they contain a lot of moisture. This moisture, if not removed in some way, has the potential to make your finished product soggy. It makes sense to remove moisture from anything you want ultimately to have a crispy coating, so don't skip this step.
Here are a few tips to help you remove some of the moisture:
Grated -- place zucchini in the center of a clean cotton dish towel, wrap similar to a piece of old-fashioned candy, and twist tightly until no more liquid drips and follow by dabbing zucchini with dry paper towels. An alternative is to press out the moisture using a potato ricer.
Spiralized Noodles -- the towel method works for noodles too, but be careful not to wring too hard and break long strands of zucchini.
Coins -- place coins on a layer of clean paper towels, sprinkle with a little salt and allow them to sit about 10 to 15 minutes. (Salt will help draw out the moisture.) Beads of moisture will form on zucchini; pat zucchini coins dry with clean paper towels.
I have seen several different breading techniques, but the one I found works best for this recipe starts with coating zucchini coins in seasoned flour and then dipping into beaten egg, allowing a few seconds for the egg to be absorbed. The last step is giving the coins a good coating of seasoned bread crumbs. An important step: allow the breaded zucchini to sit a few minutes before you bake. Follow with a quick spritz of cooking spray. The result is a crunchy breaded piece of zucchini good enough to eat immediately as an appetizer and sturdy enough to hold up as part of the casserole.
Once baked, I originally layered my zucchini like lasagna, with layers of marinara sauce and cheese, but found the addition of sauce before baking left me with soggy breading, so now I ladle sauce on after plating, but still, include lots of gooey cheese.
This is the perfect recipe for using those extra-large zucchinis you often find hiding in your garden and is substantial enough to serve as an entree without the addition of any meat. If I'm honest I should also confess I have even eaten this as a midnight snack; it is that good. So, find yourself a couple of zucchini and treat yourself to what will seem like an indulgent dish, but with fewer calories than you'd expect.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.