Parmigiana di zucchine (Courgette Parmesan)

Parmigiana di zucchine/courgette parmesan is the lesser known cousin of aubergine Parmesan. The basic idea is of course the same: to alternate layers of fried or grilled courgettes, mozzarella and grated Parmigiano or pecorino, interlayered with tomato sauce. From this basic starting point, many variations have been devised: sometimes it is made in bianco, that is to say without tomato sauce, scamorza can be used instead of mozzarella, prosciutto cotto and/or sliced boiled eggs could be added, or béchamel sauce for a richer dish. It is a lovely, homely spring-summer dish that makes a perfect piatto unico,  one meal dish, served with a a tomato salad, perhaps.

Instead of deep frying the courgettes, try oven-frying them, a technique that delivers delicious results with minimal fuss. I learnt this technique from an old America’s Test Kitchen version of aubergine parmesan and I do recommend it.
When slicing the courgettes I find that a mandolin does the best job, however it can also be dangerous. I use a cut resistant glove to save my fingers.
Instead of baking everything in one dish, I prefer to make individual portions, resembling small, neat parcels

Parmigiana di zucchine/courgette Parmesan
3 to 4 portions

Courgettes – 1.5 kg
ricotta – 250 g
Parmigiano or pecorino, grated – 100 g
cooked tomato sauce – 300 g/500g
mozzarella – one large ball (not buffalo), sliced, patted dry and shredded (you cal also shred it the night before and leave it do drain in the fridge) – the drier it is, the better
basil –  a handful, torn into pieces
olive oil

Place a heavy-duty baking tray in the oven 10 cm away from the grilling element and put the grill on maximum
Wash the courgettes, dry them and slice them lengthwise – they should be about 5mm thick (see above note on mandolin).
When the tray is screaming hot, remove it and and brush it with two-three tablespoons of olive oil. Place the sliced courgette lengths on in, close but not overlapping: they should sizzle – if they do not, it means the tray was not hot enough. Brush with extra oil. Place the tray back into the oven and grill the courgettes until they are deep golden, mottled with darker patches, turning them once – about 10 minutes in total. Grill all the courgettes in the same way, making sure to reheat the tray each time for  few minutes, before grilling the next batch.

If you like the idea of individual portions,  divide the courgettes into three/four equal mounts; otherwise you can bake one large dish. Now it is just a matter of  creating “parcels” alternating the courgettes with  the  other ingredients: on a buttered/oiled oven tray, place first a layer of courgette, five to six lengths side by side and slightly overlapping, then some tomato sauce, a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano, some basil, a few shreds of mozzarella and a few teaspoons of ricotta, then another layer of courgettes and so on … Remember to keep a little mozzarella aside and finish with a layer or tomato sauce and parmesan. When everything has been assembled, tidy up each parcel by gently pressing everything down. Drizzle generously with olive oil.

Bake in a preheated hot oven (200°) for half an hour. Distribute the reserved mozzarella on top and let it rest for thirty minutes approximately before serving.

For a delicious version without tomato sauce, you could use béchamel sauce instead and you could also add a couple of soft boiled eggs, cut into large pieces and approximately 100 g of Italian prosciutto crudo or mortadella, chopped up.

Leftovers make a spectacular filling for a panino: remove from the fridge one hour in advance and sandwich the parmigiano in between lightly toasted ciabatta or focaccia. Such a hefty panino (perhaps with a glass of Gewurtztraminer) should be followed by a short restorative nap, of course.

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