Rachel Roddy’s recipe for courgette, mozzarella and parmesan layered bake
An inventive savoury bake in which layers of softened courgette are squashed firmly between two types of cheese and tomatoes
While the selection is best between midday and 2pm, I prefer going to the canteen-like Felice just under our flat at about 3.30pm, because, after the rush of lunch, even the chairs seem to sit back and sigh with relief. And because there is less to choose from, which is great, because I am busy, hungry and don’t want to think; the counter tells me. Also, by mid-afternoon, the last of the vegetable dishes they do so well – the several-inches-deep aubergine parmigiana, the mashed potato cake, the flat green beans stewed in tomato, and little cubes of roast potato with rosemary – have been sitting a while, resting, soaking. And now that hot days are here again, the resting is even better for vegetable dishes long out of the oven but far from cold, and their flavours are the better for it.
Four o’clock, however, was too late, and I watched the last slice of parmigiana go home in an aluminium box with a man in a Guns N’ Roses cap with a guitar strapped to his back. Which, of course, made me resent him and his parmigiana more. So, after a rice ball and a potato croquette with a bit of cheese in the middle, I bought basil, tomatoes and mozzarella, which I pulled out of its plastic bag of cloudy liquid and put on a plate in the fridge, so it would drain overnight, ready for the next day.
It was only when I’d got everything out the next morning – the plate of drained mozzarella, the parmesan, the tomatoes for the sauce and the basil – that I realised I had forgotten the principal ingredient: the bloody aubergine. It was already hot, and the idea of going out again and then frying slice after slice of egged aubergine felt less than appealing. But I did have courgettes, and parmigiana is simply a layered, baked thing … which brings me to this week’s recipe. Could they work? And could they work without pre-frying, or would they release a lot of water as they baked and set the whole thing afloat?
The answer is: yes, they work! And, yes, they do release a large amount of liquid. Which is why this week’s recipe is an exercise in blotting and tilting. Blotting the thin strips of courgette, blotting the already-drained mozzarella, and then, halfway through cooking, pulling the tin out of the oven and tilting it slightly to ladle away some of the excess liquid. But, in return, it is the most delightful bake, with the courgettes stewed and softened in the liquor before being baked into a firm slice with tomato and two types of cheese.
The resting period is even more vital than with aubergine parmigiana, I think, to give the remaining juices and sauce time to be absorbed, and the mozzarella and parmesan to cool, so the cheese grouts and binds everything together. Take a lead from Felice – in the oven at 11am and out by 11.45, to be eaten at 2pm. Although it is even better at 3.30pm, with a beer at the table near the window.
600g courgettesSalt500g mozzarella, drained overnight and then blottedOlive oil300ml tomato passata, or thick tomato sauce100g parmesan, gratedA big handful of basil leaves
Using a mandoline or a potato peeler, cut the courgettes into thin strips – don’t worry if they are not perfect. Pat dry with kitchen towel and sprinkle with salt. Rip the mozzarella into small, scraggy pieces, and blot them dry.
Rub a deep-sided metal tin or small baking dish with oil, then use a third of courgettes to make a base layer, arranging the pieces neatly, but not worrying too much. Cover with a third of the sauce, a third of the cheese, half the mozzarella and a handful of basil leaves. Repeat the layers of courgette, sauce, parmesan and the remaining mozzarella and basil, then finish with a final layer each of courgette, sauce and the remaining parmesan.
Bake at 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5 for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and tip away or ladle off some of the excess liquid. Return the tin to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the top dark and golden.
Leave to rest for at least an hour before serving in slices with bread and salad.Courgette, mozzarella and parmesan layered bake4-6600g courgettesSalt500g mozzarellaOlive oil300ml tomato passata100g parmesanA big handful of basil leaves