Having to come up with a zillion ways to use the bounty of zucchini and squash at this time of year has given me a new appreciation of what people had to go through to preserve every last precious vegetable when they hadn’t the luxury of fridges, freezers and indeed supermarkets! I have seen gardens where vegetables are rotting because the household cannot eat the amount of vegetables being produced. I can think of a few reasons why this happens; either they run out of ideas of what to do with their 20th squash or 40th tomato, don’t have the time to harvest and cook, got swept away at the nursery or farmers market buying all sorts of plants on a whim rather than planning their garden, or, it doesn’t bother them because they just grew them for fun, not really caring about eating them or not. This last reason has come about because we have been spoiled and there is no real guilt about throwing away food. I know countless people who, when they say they are going to clean their refrigerators really mean they are going to throw away food that they never got around to cooking, or, let the leftovers spoil!
I am no saint, but wasting good food makes me feel completely irresponsible and fills me with guilt, as it should. Preserving things like food for future use is not on most people’s minds these days. After all, you can buy a tomato in the middle of winter (albeit a badly engineered one!), so why bother?
When you plant a garden, or get swept away by the choices at the Farmer’s market in the height of the growing season, the very least you can do is cook the thing. I am done listening to complaining children say “but we had green beans yesterday!” Kids need to be taught that food may be plentiful here in this country, but it should be treated with respect and cared for, not thrown away without a thought.
I never went hungry as a child but my parents taught me the value of food. Nothing was wasted and it is a lesson I thank them for daily. I try my very best to cook everything that I grow, I buy, or am given. I change leftovers into different dishes by adding something to it, or cooking it in a different way (ever fried leftover pasta and topped it with an egg for lunch!).
With that thought in mind, I felt challenged by the jumbo zucchini from my friend’s garden, and my relentless basil plants. I also had 3 or 4 tomatoes that I needed to use. The days are exceedingly hot (don’t get me started about the weather!) and I knew they wouldn’t last long. I never store tomatoes in the fridge, it does something awful to the flavor and texture. I came up with a great 1 dish meal that used all of them together beautifully. I based it in on the multitude of layered pasta dishes out there, and I was super happy with the results.
If you have some veggies you don’t know what to do with, before you throw them out, make this dish, or follow the general principles, and make up your own version. No one will be disappointed!
Hmmm…….now what do I make with 6 cucumbers?
You will need: 1 lb sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces, 1 jumbo zucchini (or two normal-sized zucchini). sliced into thick coins, 3 tbs olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped, 20 basil leaves, 4 medium tomatoes, (great quality, if possible), sliced whole, 1 lb white cheese, grated (can be a strong or mild cheddar or a soft cow’s milk cheese like Farmer or Monterey jack), 1lb penne pasta ( I used a mini ridged pasta by Barilla), coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Preheat oven 350*
*Put a big pot (4 qt) filled with cold water on to boil for the pasta and cook according to instructions. Drain and rinse pasta in colander with plenty of cold water. Leave in colander and set aside until ready to assemble dish.
1 – Put saute pan on medium/high heat and add oil. Sprinkle zucchini with a little salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add the zucchini in a single layer and fry until starting to brown (a minute or so per side). Turn and repeat. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
2 – Turn heat down and add sausages to pan. Fry for 5 minutes and then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3 – Lay a single layer of zucchini in the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish. This should use up all of your zucchini. Next add 1/2 of the cooked penne, followed by 1/2 of the basil leaves. Top with 1/2 of the cheese.
4 – Lay all of the tomato slices over the cheese and season with a little salt and pepper, followed by the rest of the basil, and all of the sausage. Top with the last of the penne and then the cheese. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until everything turns a nice light golden brown.
To serve; let everyone help themselves (we certainly did!), or divide between warm plates or bowls.