8 to 12 servings as a side dish
Another wonderful way to use bread—something that we always have in abundance in our house, fresh, day old, and dried—is as an element of many savory dishes. It is used in appetizer grattinate, in soups and salads, and day old bread is great in desserts.
Here bread slices are the base and substance of a summer-time vegetable lasagna, in place of pasta. I give you two versions, one with raw zucchini, one with briefly sautéed eggplant slices. Assembly and baking are the same. You could multiply the recipe and make this as a big party or picnic dish. It’s wonderful warm or room temperature as a hearty side dish.
To vary: use egg-battered zucchini strips for a scrumptious lasagna; or roast the eggplant instead of frying it; or combine zucchini and eggplant (sauté zucchini slices first though).
- For the Zucchini
- 2 pounds firm, unblemished zucchini (6 small or 4 medium)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- For Assembling the Lasagna:
- 2 tablespoons soft butter, for the baking pan
- 12 or so day-old slices of country bread (from a 1-1/2 pound loaf)
- 6 cups tomato sauce
- 2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
Rinse and dry the zucchini, slice off the stem and trim the blossom end. With a sharp long bladed knife (or a mandoline if you have one) cut very thin lengthwise slices, about an 1/8-inch thick. Put them in large bowl, sprinkle over the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the 2 tablespoons of oil and toss to coat the slices with the seasonings.
Assembling the Lasagna
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Cut the crusts off the bread slices. If they are soft and fresh, you can dry them briefly in the oven but don’t let them get crisp or brown.
Butter the bottom and sides of the baking pan generously. Spread a cup of the tomato sauce in a thin layer in the bottom of the pan. Cover the bottom with a single layer of bread slices. Trim the slices and cut them in pieces so they fit close together and lie flat (but you don’t have to fill every small crack or hole). Spoon about 2 cups of sauce onto the bread and spread it evenly.
Make a layer of zucchini (or sautéed eggplant), using half the slices. You can lay them crosswise or lengthwise in the pan, whichever way fits best. Overlap the slices as necessary to make an even layer that completely covers the sauce. Press down gently to condense the lasagna and make more room in the pan, then sprinkle 1 cup of grated cheese evenly over the top.
Now repeat the layering: Arrange another layer of bread slices and trimmed pieces. Cover the bread with 2 more cups of sauce, spread evenly. Lay out the rest of the zucchini (or eggplant) slices in an overlapping layer. Spread the remaining tomato sauce, about a cup, in a thin layer. Sprinkle another cup of cheese (or more!) in a generous layer over the top of the lasagna.
Baking the Lasagna:
Cut a sheet of aluminum foil about 2 feet long—preferably from a wide roll of heavy duty foil. Press the foil so it hugs the sides of the pan and bend it to make a “tent” over the lasagna that doesn’t touch the surface anywhere.
Bake the lasagna covered for about 45 minutes, giving the zucchini plenty of time to cook. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully unfold the foil from the sides of the pan and lift it off completely. Don’t get burned by the pan or the steam that is released—keep your face and hands out of the way. And don’t let the foil mess up the cheesy topping! (In a glass casserole, you should be able to see the sauce bubbling up around the sides of the pan.)
Return the lasagna to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is deep golden-brown. Let the casserole settle for a few minutes before serving (it will stay hot for some time). Cut in squares or rectangles of whatever size you like and lift out individual pieces with an angled spatula.