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When my daughter Ruthie was six, she started attending “summer camp,” which was actually extended day care based out of the house of a teacher she’d come to know and love. There were only four kids in the camp and they did all sorts of fun things. Of course I was thrilled to learn that once or twice a week they had cooking classes. I had been trying to get Ruth into the kitchen from the age of two, but she hadn’t shown much interest. (I figured that I could begin introducing her not only to the joys of cooking but to many other subjects as well—among them arithmetic, reading, history, and the cultures of other lands—through cooking.) Truthfully, at that age she preferred New York pizzeria pizza by the slice, McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, and macaroni and cheese out of a box to any of my lovingly prepared homemade versions of the same dishes.
Anyway, Ruthie was just crazy about this one dish she discovered at camp, which consisted of sautéed zucchini rounds that had been dipped in Parmigiano-Reggiano bread crumbs. The kids used serrated plastic knives to slice the zucchini and breaded the rounds themselves. Then their teacher pan-fried them. Ruthie and I started cooking it at home as a side dish with store-bought bread crumbs—“Italian-flavor, please, Mom.” Over the years we’ve refined the original recipe by adding herbs.
You could easily turn this into a vegetarian main dish. Arrange the zucchini in one layer in a baking pan, drizzle them with some garlicky tomato sauce, grate mozzarella over it all, and throw the pan into the oven to heat up and melt.
3 medium zucchini, washed
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup all-purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
6 tablespoons or more extra virgin olive oil
Trim off the ends of the zucchini and discard. Cut each zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, thyme, and oregano in a large bowl and mix well.
Mix the flour with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper on a large plate or in a pie plate. Place the beaten egg in a separate plate or bowl. Dredge the zucchini slices in the flour, making sure they are well coated, and shake off any excess. Dip the floured slices into the egg, let the excess drip off, and dip into the crumb mixture to coat. Transfer to a large baking sheet and keep uncovered in the refrigerator until ready to serve. (The slices can be prepared to this point up to 2 hours ahead.)
Just before serving, preheat the oven to 200ºF and heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini to the skillet a few slices at a time. (Do not crowd the skillet or the slices will not brown properly.) Cook, turning often, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Add olive oil as needed between batches. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep the zucchini in a warm oven while you cook the rest. Serve hot.
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