I live by the rule that friends don’t give friends zucchini.
It has worked out well for me, keeping the summer squash, super-sized at this time of year, at bay. But when a friend came at me the other week with one the size of Captain Caveman’s club and a pleading look in her eyes, I decided that sometimes friends should just shut up and take the zucchini.
Even if I already had three pounds shredded and stuffed in my freezer, and another trio of green and striped brutes that could double as free weights languishing in my fridge.
I think I did a pretty good job of keeping in check the glazing over of my eyes as I accepted the latest addition to my collection. Don’t get me wrong, I like zucchini. But at this time of year, I don’t think I’m alone when I say their ability to go from blossom to behemoth beast seemingly overnight, multiplying like rabbits all the while, is a bit overwhelming.
I will never entirely understand why so many people plant them in their gardens. Of course, they are a great confidence builder for the self-doubting green thumb — “Look! I grew a zucchini. Or 20! Call me an urban homesteader already” — but in a game of six degrees of zucchini separation, I’d be willing to bet we all know someone who knows someone who can keep a densely populated neighbourhood well supplied with the summer squash. That person is likely armed with recipes for all the ways you can use the multi-purpose Cucurbita pepo (yup, I broke out the Latin) — and, interestingly, never taste it in any of them.
The zucchini grower’s creativity with courgettes is mildly infectious, inspirational, even, but I’m still unconvinced about drinking a glass of zucchini juice. Sorry, folks.
Anyway, I brought home the Captain Caveman club and put it in my fridge, not holding out much hope for it. Taking the thing was enough of an act of friendship, I figured. No one would have to know whether I turned it into a soufflé or salad, or passed it over for every other delicious vegetable in season right now until it was time for the zuke to go to that mighty compost heap in the sky.
I tried to avoid looking at it every time I went to the fridge for a peach or the almond milk. No mean feat, given its girth. Then one day, I saw that zucchini and its cylindrical companions for what they really are: vessels of toothsome summer comfort food.
All that was needed was a date with my mandolin, some lentils, tomatoes, herbs and cheese.
The result: a lasagna that made me feel like the best friend a zucchini zealot could have. I almost contemplated asking for another zuke after devouring a supper that rekindled my love of the squash, except I know I won’t have to.
Because friends give friends zucchini, and friends are grateful.
Zucchini and lentil lasagna
I love lentil bolognese, which is the sauce smothered between layers of zucchini in this recipe. As a vegetarian, I appreciate its heft and the fact it has a texture not unlike its meaty counterpart. The key to a good lentil bolognese is picking lentils that will hold their shape when cooked, like a green or brown lentil, such as the French du Puy or Spanish pardina. Still, be careful while cooking them because they can become a mushy mass if overdone.
Rinse and cook:
1 cup dried brown or green lentils (about 20 minutes), until tender. Set aside.
While lentils are cooking, trim and slice:
1 large zucchini (about three inches thick) into 1/8-inch-thick slices and set aside. (A mandolin works brilliantly for this task.)
2 cups mozzarella
3/4 cup Romano cheese
1 medium onion
2 large cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sweat for five minutes, until softened.
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and cook another five minutes.
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh marjoram
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Simmer bolognese for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken as the lentils absorb more liquid. Don’t worry. Moisture from the zucchini, released as the lasagna bakes, will thin things out.
Preheat oven to 380°F.
Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of an 8 x 8 baking dish (or larger, depending on the length of your zucchini slices). Top with a layer of zucchini slices. Cover with sauce, then sprinkle sauce layer with a mixture of mozzarella and Romano. Repeat sequence, alternating the direction that zucchini are placed each time and until the ingredients are used up. End with a layer of sauce sprinkled with the cheese mixture.
Bake for 35 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Remove from oven and let stand five minutes before serving.