Layered Garden Vegetable Casserole
Summer is a fantastic season in Washington state. And no, not because we finally get to see some sun (although that is a great perk). Washington is the perfect climate for many different vegetables and herbs, so every year my family plants a variety of different things so that we can begin a healthy culinary exploration at the cost of a plant to us. This year we have two HUGE zucchini and squash plants-- let me tell you, these plants produce a lot of vegetables. If you do decide you would like to try growing your own veggies be prepared to eat that particular item frequently. Anyway, I was on the hunt to find a dish that would enhance the flavor of the veggies while maintaining the healthy nutrients to some degree. This dish had incredible flavor for being made of almost entirely vegetables.
Here is the cast of characters for this dish: 1 medium onion, 1 squash, 1 zucchini, 2 tomatoes (I used 1 and discovered it is not enough, 1 LARGE baking potato (the one I used was on the smaller size. I recommend a bigger one so that the slices match up), garlic, shredded Italian cheese, salt, pepper, and thyme (fresh from the garden as well!)
This part of the dish adds another element and a surprise factor. Simply, dice a medium onion so that they are of uniform size. Add it to a pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and about a tablespoon of garlic. I prefer my onions on the softer side so I let them cook the entire time while I prepared the other vegetable; however, if you prefer crunchier onions you can simply sweat them for about 5 minutes. If you are like me and prefer to cook your onions longer make sure that you watch the garlic, it can easily burn and ruin your whole dish!
If for whatever reason you do not want to cut and cook an onion (I understand... it is a lot of work ;)) I believe it would be okay to leave it out. The onion mixture does add another dimension of flavor, but is definitely not the most critical element.
Aren't these colors just beautiful? I love cooking with vegetables because they add greater dimension and vibrancy to meals. The benefits to a home garden is easy access to these stunning veggies. If you are sensitive or do not like the skin on the zucchini or squash I would recommend you peel them leaving stripes of skin so that you still get a pop of color.
Slice your zucchini, squash, tomato, and potato so that they are fairly thin. This allows them to cook thoroughly during the cooking process. I used a knife, but if I had a mandolin I would definitely use that. If you do not know what a mandolin is, it is a tool that allows you to push various ingredients (vegetables in this case) across the surface so that you get a uniform consistency.
Spray the bottom of an 8 X 8 inch square baking dish with a non-stick spray and spread the bottom with the onion and garlic mixture. Next layer the veggies in this order: zucchini, squash, potato, tomato (or any other way you wish). You may notice that I only have the tomatoes in a few random places-- that is because I did not have enough (and PLEASE ensure you have enough-- the tomatoes were my favorite part.)
Generously sprinkle salt, pepper, and fresh chopped thyme on top of the veggies and then top with a couple generous handfuls of the shredded Italian cheese. Cover with foil and cook at 400 degree F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.
I was blown away by the flavor of this dish. I am not a huge vegetable person; however, this absolutely caught me off guard and gave me a reason to eat the zucchini and squash growing in our garden. If you are afraid that it may lack flavor I would recommend that you toss the slices of vegetables in salt and pepper; however, it is absolutely not necessary.