Zucchini (Courgettes) is a small, thin skinned, summer squash. Its Scientific name is Cucurbita pepo (a species which also includes other squash). It can either be yellow or green or light green, and generally has a similar shape to a ridged cucumber, though a few cultivars are available that produce round or bottle-shaped fruit. Unlike the cucumber it is usually served cooked, often steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed and baked, barbecued, fried, or incorporated in other recipes such as souffles.
Courgettes, like all summer squash, has its ancestry in the Americas. But while most summer squash―including the closely related cocozelle and marrow―were introduced to Europe during the time of European colonization of the Americas, zucchini is European in origin, the result of spontaneously occurring mutations (also called “sports”). In all probability, this occurred in the very late 19th century, probably near Milan (early varieties usually included the names of cities in the area in the name). Zucchini is very popular in areas around Mediterenean sea and it is highly utilized in Italian and Greek cooking. In Greece is used in moussaka (another post) stuffed vegetables (also a different post) and in simple but delightful dishes, such the one described here.
My all time favorite recipe, comes from the island of Crete. My birthplace. It is a great summer dish, with flavors of summer. Fresh and refreshing. It is called Boureki and although the name implies a layered dough with meat it has nothing to do with it. We will need:
- 2 lb of green zucchini any size but without seeds.
- 2 medium potatoes
- 1 lb of feta cheece
- 4 medium tomatoes
- 2 medium onion
- 4-5 garlic cloves
Before we start the assembly of the dish we have to prepare the ingredients. Slice the potato and the zucchini with the use of a mandolin. The potato must be sliced in very thin slices. The zucchini can be a little thicker. Then you will need a box grader. And yes do not use food processor. Take the tomatoes and grade them on them o the coarse side of the box grader. Grade the onions on the fine setting. Not the one for hard cheeses and nutmeg, but the one who has scales just like the coarser setting, but smaller. Mix the onion and tomatoes together add 1 tbsp of dried oregano and the spearmint and the garlic finely chopped. For that use a big dish or bowl with large flat bottom. Try to gather with a fork the pulp of the sauce on one side and let the juice separate. We are going to use both parts of the sauce but in a different part. Then use the box grader to grade the feta cheese . Grading it instead of grumbling it will result in a more aerated version easier to sprinkle evenly. Now the assembly part.
The cooking vessel can be basically any type of baking container, but personally like a 12 inch cast iron pan. If you don ‘t have one you can get a pyrex dish but you will lose a small part of the dish. Step one, spread olive oil and oil very well the cooking vessel. If you are indeed using the cast iron pan add more than usual. Flour one by one the potato slices and layer them on the bottom and the sides of the dish. Do not use all of them, we will need some to cover the top, but make sure you have no gap among them. After you are done, take some of the zucchini slices and layer them on the bottom. Sprinkle some of the feta cheese and continue till you reach somewhere in the middle of the dish. Take the pulp of the tomato sauce and spread it on top. Reserve the juice ok? Continue with the rest of the zucchini and feta till you use them all. Just save a handful worths of feta for the end. When you finish with the zucchini repeat the flouring of the potato slices and cover the dish. At this point mix the remaining feta into the juice of the the tomato. Pure in on top of the dish. The reason we are doing it is simple. If we just add the total sauce in the midpoint then the layers beneath will be soaked in liquid and the layers above will be dry. By doing this the we evenly distribute the juice, which would be the only cooking liquid.
Now set your oven at 350 F. If you have used a cast iron pan, put it on the stovetop on medium high and let it there for 10 mins. That will crisp the bottom potatoes and make the dish more cohesive. If you don ‘t have a cast iron pan, then just place the dish on the lower rack right above the heating element of the oven, for about 15 mins. Cook for about an hour. When you remove it, it will have lot ‘s of liquid but the flour will help it thicken. Let it cool till the liquids set. It is great with a side of yogurt room temperature or cold.
A great summer dish, with a strange vegetable really, really misunderstood. Try it, I am sure you will know why it is my favorite.