Zucchini and summer squashes are so versatile, and so various in size, color and shape, that they’re endlessly fun to create with. From pattypan to eight ball-shaped globes of delicate flesh, we’ve come to see a lot more heirloom types of these over the last few years, thanks to farmers who’ve saved their seeds. This recipe can be made with any of them, sliced thinly and arranged in layers to stand in for lasagna sheets — and soak in all the flavors in between.
I was craving a rich, pasta dish when I found my first, plump squashes of the summer, with fresh cheeses and herbs. Zucchini and summer squashes have such a mild flavor that a little richness helps bring them out. When they’re crisp and fresh as the first crop of the season, too, they’re delicious when eaten raw. I went with a preparation that would gently cook the layers of squash just enough to get hot, but retain most of their juice.
So whether or not you’re looking to cut carbs, these thin sheets of zucchini made a playful replacement for pasta in this light summer lasagna-like dish. I used a small variety of green and yellow squash/zucchini that were roughly the same size. These were all drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt before laying them into the bottom of a small pan.
After the first layer, I added dabs of arugula pesto and spread it across. A classic basil pesto would work here just fine — I’ve had a small container of spicy arugula and pine nut pesto in my freezer from last summer’s rooftop greens.
I’ve had a hankering to use Brooklyn’s finest homemade ricotta, from Salvatore Brooklyn, in something new lately, too. This ricotta is so thick and luscious, made with just whole milk and a splash of lemon juice to activate the curdling, it’s great for making lasagna with, rather than the more liquid, average store-bought variety. To make these layers bind even better, I mixed in an egg to a cupful of the ricotta, and seasoned it a bit with some sea salt.
These layers repeated a couple times, and my “lasagna” was ready to bake. I sprinkled the top with grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano to give it a golden crust.
Then, like most lasagnas, this one does need a few moments to sit after baking. Slicing it can be tricky, but easily done with a sharp knife (read: do not collapse the whole pile by trying to use a butter knife). With a little basil for garnish on top, it made for an elegant treat to bring to my potluck tonight.
Zucchini Lasagna (without the pasta sheets)
(makes one square, 8″ x 8″ lasagna, or about 6 servings)
3 medium-large zucchinis, yellow squashes or other summer squashes, ends trimmed
8 oz. ricotta
about 1/4 cup pesto
about 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
about 1/4 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano
sea salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice zucchini and squashes lengthwise into about 1/8-inch thick slices. You should have at least 20 long pieces for layers. Drizzle all the pieces with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper on each side.
Gently beat the egg and mix in thoroughly with the ricotta. Stir in a pinch of salt and pepper.
Lightly oil the bottom of a square casserole dish. Arrange four large squash slices on the bottom. Spread 1/3 of the pesto on top. Arrange another layer of squash pieces, horizontally in relation to the last layer. Spread half the ricotta on top. Add another layer of squash pieces and spread another 1/3 of the pesto. Add another layer of squash pieces and spread the remaining ricotta. Add another layer of squash pieces and spread the remaining pesto. Sound like a broken record.
Sprinkle the top with the grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano and bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until top is lightly browned. Let cool for at least five minutes and serve.
(for about 6 servings)
3 zucchinis and/or summer squashes (at $2.50/lb): $2.50
8 oz. Salvatore Brooklyn ricotta: $8.00
1/4 cup homemade pesto: $2.00
1 egg: $0.25
1/4 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano: $1.00
olive oil, salt, pepper: $0.50
Five brownie points: This dish is a double-edged sword; at once, it gives you plentiful nutrition but also a good dose of saturated fat. As light as it may taste, whole-milk ricotta is on the heavy side. But when you buy a pure, fresh version such as Salvatore Brooklyn’s, it’s free of preservatives or additives, so you’re just getting lots of calcium-rich dairy. Zucchini and summer squash have a diverse range of vitamins and minerals, too — a fact that is underestimated in my opinion — including Vitamin C, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Eight maple leaves: You can celebrate the start of a fresh new season with this late spring-summer transitional dish. While most of the tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, we’ve got squashes and herbs that you can really taste without a red sauce. These squashes were found at Phillips Farm’s stand at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket; the ricotta from the small local business Salvatore Brooklyn, as mentioned; and the pesto herbs as well as egg from my rooftop garden. Too bad olive trees don’t grow up there for the oil.