It’s the end of Summer, and those vegetables and herbs we’ve been patiently waiting to reach their peak all season have finally done so - I love it! Our little balcony garden is literally overflowing, and we’re picking more Italian cherry tomatoes than I can manage to use every single day. Most are getting slow-roasted and stored away in olive oil to used in the coming months. But I like using them fresh off the vine, whenever I can. This dish lets me do just that and is one of our favorites. It’s an easy and light meal any night of the week, just oozing Summertime goodness!
It’s simply a layering of zucchini, tomatoes and roasted peppers with some mozzarella cheese thrown in for good measure. Some would call it a “tian”, others may call it a “gratin”. Culinary terminology sometimes being confusing, I did some digging and the answer for this dish lies somewhere in between, although I feel it leans more in Camp Tian. From what I’ve read, a tian is a layered dish of vegetables, rarely including cheese unless it is just lightly sprinkled over the top. A gratin is also a layered vegetable dish, but generally uses a lot more cheese and, often, cream or milk. I think the mozzarella leaves this one straddling the fence just a bit. Call it what you will, I call it layered deliciousness!
Please know you can adjust the amount of each ingredient to whatever you’d like, so you will see a lot of “some” or “to your liking” here in terms of volume. Don’t let this frustrate you! I know how it drives some of you crazy when you’re looking for a recipe to provide specifics, but think of this as more of a “guide” than a “recipe”, giving you the freedom to make this dish exactly how you like it. I’m including photos to give you an idea of how much I’ve used of each ingredient.
I’ll tell you what I’ve used and explain how I layered it, but do feel free to adjust all of it to your own preferences. If you don’t like garlic, don’t use it. If you want onions, slice them thinly and add them in. If you have a ton of zucchini, use more than what I did here, maybe adding an additional layer. If you don’t feel like roasting the peppers, just thinly slice some raw peppers and use those instead. If you don’t have basil, don’t fret, use whatever fresh herb you have on hand: thyme, rosemary and tarragon are all good ones to consider.
You get the idea, there’s a lot of wiggle room here! If I may make a couple of suggestions at the outset, I’d say go easy on any added liquid, as the vegetables will release some of their own liquid into the dish and you don’t want this to be “soupy,” and season the layers just a bit, as you go.
Here’s what I’ll be using:
- 2 medium zucchini (about 8” long, about 2” in diameter), sliced a little less than 1/4” thick. I don’t like to slice them much thicker than that or they’ll take too long to cook through; sliced much thinner, they will fall apart during the bake.
- 1 yellow bell pepper and 1 red bell pepper, both roasted, peeled and diced. If you are unsure how to roast a pepper, check out The Amazing Roasted Red Pepper where our Owner/Chef Shelley Young demonstrates it for you in a video. Remember not to rinse them once you’ve peeled them. Any black specks remaining are pure flavor bombs!
- Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half vertically (through the stem end). Slice up “some”, you can always slice more if you need them!
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (I did not use all the garlic pictured here and I actually sliced it more thinly.)
- Mozzarella balls, sliced in half. I like using the “ciliegine” size, which literally translates to “cherry”, but you can use whatever size you like. I used about three-quarters of an 8-oz container, but if you want this extra-cheesy, use more.
- Tomato passata (or tomato puree), about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. I prefer passata over puree because it is thicker – not as thick or as dense as tomato paste, but thicker than tomato puree. If you use puree, I suggest draining it. You don’t have to press on it, just give it a quick drain in a strainer.
- Fresh Basil
- Parmesan cheese (I like the nuttiness and tang of good Parmigiano-Reggiano), freshly grated
- Extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish. There is no need to spread it out. My go-to dish for this is 10” in diameter. It’s only about 2” deep, but if yours is deeper that’s not a problem. Deeper would also allow you to make an extra layer, if you wish!
Arrange about half the zucchini slices around the bottom of the dish. I like to make this bottom layer a generous one to provide a good base, so I overlap them a bit. Give it a quick drizzle of olive oil (not as much as was on the bottom of the dish, just a quick swirl) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Scatter about half of the mixture of yellow and red peppers, leaving behind any liquid that has accumulated in the dish they’ve been sitting in. Top that with some tomato halves and scatter some thinly sliced garlic over the top. Give another quick drizzle of olive oil, and season with a bit of salt and pepper.
Tear some basil leaves and scatter them across the dish. Then spoon some of the tomato passata here and there, over the top.
Drop as many mozzarella ball halves on top of this as you wish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with a bit of salt and pepper.
At this point, press the mixture down slightly with your hands or a spatula. This is only to flatten the top a little so you can more easily add a second layer – no need to compress it any more than that!
Now add a second layer, same as the first, starting with the zucchini and ending with the mozzarella. The only change that I make is that I do not use garlic in the second layer. For us, there is enough flavor imparted with putting it only in the first layer. But if you want more garlic flavor, feel free to use it in this second layer as well.
Now grate a bit of parmesan cheese over the top – to your taste. This will brown nicely in the oven. You can always add more when you serve the dish.
Pop the dish in the oven at 350⁰ F. I don’t even preheat the oven, I just let everything come up to temperature together. Let it go for 45 minutes or so (everyone’s oven is different!): look for the cheese to be beautifully melted, the vegetables will be soft, the tomatoes will have a bit of browning on the edges, and the sides will be bubbling a bit from the juices.
Give the dish about 10 minutes to rest and “settle”, then drizzle a touch of olive oil (oh, the aroma from olive oil on the hot food is always amazing!) and sprinkle with basil chiffonade. To get those lovely slivers of basil, take a peek at my blog It's Grilled Zucchini Season. The technique is so simple, but gives such pretty results!
While this dish is wonderful on its own, I often pair it with couscous, orzo or rice. It’s a lovely meatless option, perfect for evenings as we shift from Summer to Fall, with all of our fresh vegetables still at their peak, and I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!
With all the slicing and dicing in this recipe, you might feel like it’s time to brush up on your knife skills! The Chopping Block is offering several Knife Skills classes in the coming months. Don't miss: