Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fresh Layers

Ever notice that layered things can be better than unlayered? Here in Northern California the temperature during a 24 hour period can swing from a chilly and foggy am temperature of 45 to a hot 90+ degrees at lunchtime and back to a chilly evening when the fog rolls in again. Layers of clothing make it possible to leave home in the morning comfy in three or so layers and still happy at noon in a tank top, having discarded the sweatshirt and long sleeve over shirt during the morning as temperatures heated up. In the food world there is lasagna...yum!...and layer cake...double yum!... and trifles with all those layers of custard and ladyfingers and fruit and whipped cream. Lots of delicious layers in that one.

Earlier in the week I was inspired by all the wonderful veggies from the garden and the market that I found in the fridge. There was also an end of the Easy Little Bread sitting on the counter that was getting stale and needed to be used up. I decided to make a layered veggie dish, using thinly sliced yellow zucchini squash in the place of lasagna pasta noodles.

First I ground up the Easy Little Bread end in the food processor to make dry bread crumbs. They were combined with garlic olive oil and fresh Italian parsley and crisped up to make the bottom layer of the stack. On top went the zucchini slices, chopped fresh tomato, fresh corn just cut from the cob, torn fresh basil and some pepper.

Next I combined ricotta cheese, the garlic from making the garlic oil, green onions and some freshly steamed spinach. This layer was spread over the ones already in the casserole dish. More squash and tomato went over that, more pepper, then a layer of the bread crumbs and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese. It looked and smelled wonderful but that was nothing compared to how it was freshly out of the oven!

The veggies had cooked to perfection, the flavors had mingled, and the crumbs and cheese on top were golden and a bit crisp. Look at those layers! Each mouthful was delightful since you never knew which of the ingredients would be in that bite. We had the leftovers two nights later and it was even more tasty then.

This recipe does take a little time since most things are fresh and need to be prepped. Nothing is difficult and it can be prepared early in the day and baked at dinner time. I served it with cold crisp carrots and that was all we needed.

Fresh Layers of Veggies
an original Elle recipe
Serves 4-6 as a main dish, 6 - 8 as a side dish

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used a multi-grain bread to make crumbs, but packaged is fine.)
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
3-4 medium zucchini (I used all yellow, but any color is fine), sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch thick slices
2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 ear fresh corn, kernels sliced from the cob
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 lb fresh spinach, long stems removed, steamed, squeezed dry, chopped
dash nutmeg
dash cayenne pepper
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the garlic in the oil until light golden brown. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon, reserving the garlic for later. Leave the oil in the pan and cook the breadcrumbs and parsley in the garlic olive oil, stirring often, until breadcrumbs are crispy. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Oil the sides and bottom of a 9inch x 13 inch baking dish. Scatter half the breadcrumbs in the bottom of the pan. Layer half the squash over the crumbs, covering most of the dish. Scatter half the tomatoes over the squash, then all of the corn.

 Scatter half the basil over all. Season with some pepper (freshly ground if possible).

In a medium bowl combine the ricotta cheese, egg, green onions, chopped spinach, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Spread the mixture over the corn layer, making sure that the cheese mixture touches the side of the pan all the way around the pan.

Layer the rest of the squash over the ricotta mixture, then the rest of the tomato. Season with more pepper.

Sprinkle the rest of the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top of the casserole.
Sprinkle the shredded Parmesan evenly over that. Cover the dish tightly with foil. (This dish can now be kept in the refrigerator up to eight hours before baking.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the casserole on the middle rack for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden and the casserole is heated through. Serve at once.


  1. My goodness, that looks so delicious. I don't even know how you come up with these ideas!

  2. Tanita, Too much squash is a great source of inspiration :) I'm also trying to think 'veggies' instead of 'meat/fish/poultry' when planning meals. Just made a wonderful salad based on fresh cranberry beans...will post it soon.

  3. Anonymous8:29 PM

    That looks really good. Too bad Somebody Here doesn't like squash. I'm really looking forward to the cranberry bean salad! What a beautiful picture of the tomato on your header, plus the picture on the Aug. 1 post made me so hungry. Hurrah for gardens!
    Much love, Natasha

  4. Natasha, you could still do the other layers and maybe eggplant instead of it would be yummy. Hope to post the cranberry bean dish tomorrow. Gardens really ARE wonderful!