Georgette’s zucchini bake: Hot comfort food for freezing cold weather

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Doesn’t this look wonderful? I made this dish the other day, in anticipation of the freezing cold weather which was due to hit Chicagoland. I was bracing myself for the worst weather I’d ever experienced since moving to the Windy City, and I wanted something hot and comforting, like a gift to myself and my body. I remembered I had this recipe in my binder and went to the grocery store to buy zucchini. I felt at ease with the recipe and I liked its ingredients. The end result was satisfying and provided the comfort and warmth I so much needed.
Georgette was a friend of my uncle’s (God rest his soul) with whom I got along really well. I remember spending many Saturdays at her house, talking for hours on end and savoring her zucchini bake. I loved the unpretentious indulgence of this dish, and I also found the use of zucchini (a vegetable I’m not particularly fond of) ingenious. There’s butter, cheese and veggies in this dish – so, what’s not to like?

Ingredients

2.5lb zucchini

5 whole eggs

1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 cups milk

1/2 cup flour

1 stick unsalted butter (for the white sauce)

1/4 stick unsalted butter (for the zucchini prep stage)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (optional)

1

Stage 1 of the recipe takes about 10-12 minutes and it involves making a white sauce (béchamel sauce) out of 1 stick of butter, flour and milk. Put the butter in a pan and melt it on the stovetop over low heat:

2

Add the flour slowly and keep stirring to avoid lumps:

3

Add the milk and continue stirring vigorously. A special note here: I have come across recipes which state that the milk should be warm or even hot. I always use milk at room temperature to make this sauce, and I never had a problem:

4

Slowly but surely, the flour absorbs the milk and the mixture thickens to form a velvety sauce:

5

Add salt and pepper to taste, then take the pan off the heat and let the sauce cool down.

In the meantime, wash, peel and grate the zucchini. Put them in a bowl, add a sprinkle of salt, and let them stand for about 10-15 minutes. Zucchini have a lot of water, and what you want to accomplish at this stage is to drain as much water out of them as possible. Zucchini will start releasing water soon after you’ve added the salt.

6

Squeeze the zucchini gently to get rid of the excess water and place them in another bowl:

7

Melt 1/4 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the zucchini:

8

Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini are tender and have taken on the flavor of the butter. 

9

Take the zucchini off the heat and let them cool down.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

The final stage involves adding together the white sauce, zucchini, shredded mild cheddar cheese, crumbled feta cheese, and 5 egg yolks:

10

In a separate bowl beat the 5 egg whites until they are fluffy and firm. Add them to the zucchini, white sauce and cheese mixture:

11

Stir until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the mixture into a baking pan which has been buttered. Sprinkle extra shredded cheese or breadcrumbs on top:

12

Put the pan in the oven and bake for around 40 minutes, until golden brown on top:

13

Take the pan out of the oven and add extra cheese if you want:

14

Serve with fresh chopped parsley sprinkled on top:

15

I also usually serve this with dill pickles or peppadew peppers on the side (I wrote a bit about peppadew peppers here). Use less cheese if you want the dish to be lighter.

This zucchini bake is a hit with cheese lovers and is one of my favorite comfort foods. I come back to it over and over again, whenever I take shelter from the cold and long for something nourishing and indulgent. This dish reminds me of my old friend Georgette, and each time I eat it I feel like I’m meeting her again – I’m having a great conversation with her in the midst of the cruel winter.


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