At Café Cinquecento, an Italian restaurant on King Street West in Toronto, owner Liliana Mancini invites her mother and aunts to cook at the restaurant for her popular monthly La Notte Delle Mamme nights. These special meals are always sold out because the food is exactly what you would enjoy if you had an Italian mamma of your own. On the night we attended, we had antipasto, zucchini Parmigianino, homemade pasta with sausages and fritto misto as the main. Liliana's mamma, Carmela, cooked it all. This is her recipe for Zucchini Parmesan, which also includes a classic homemade tomato sauce, which Carmela makes in huge batches and freezes.
- 8 zucchini
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 batch Homemade Tomato Sauce (see below)
- 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
Cut zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Sprinkle zucchini slices with a generous amount of kosher salt and pepper and lay on a rack over a cookie sheet for 30 minutes or until zucchini leeches water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Combine flour and grated Parmesan in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil (just deep enough to cover zucchini slices) in a large, wide, low saucepan over medium-high heat. Dredge zucchini slices in flour mixture to coat and, working in batches, fry zucchini for 2 minutes, turning if needed, or until lightly golden. Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish by spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce over the bottom. Cover with a single layer of zucchini slices, lengthwise. Cover with about 1 cup sauce and sprinkle with half of the breadcrumbs, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, finishing with cheeses. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbling slightly. Remove foil and continue to cook for 10 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4 to 6.
HOMEMADE TOMATO SAUCE
The recipe makes more than enough for the zucchini dish, but it triples and quadruples easily. All you need are big enough pots. I always purée mine with my hand-held stick blender. It gives a slightly chunky sauce. If the tomatoes are very acidic, add a large pinch of sugar when cooking.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped (seeded if you like)
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 red pepper, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place all ingredients in a large, low and wide saucepan and simmer, uncovered, for 50 minutes or until tomatoes have softened, broken down and reduced. Use a hand blender to purée ingredients in the pan or transfer mixture to food processor to purée ingredients into a slightly chunky sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 6 cups.