Another huge competitor in the comfort food category! (what’s up with me? I’ve been making lots of these lately!!)
It is an all-time favourite with all our friends, and a special favourite of my nieces Maggie & Mona.
This dish can be made with the ground beef/pine nuts mixture, or without; totally vegetarian. It is equally delicious in both versions. The secret is in the quantity of cheese, and in the texture of the bechamel.
I use two kinds of cheeses: finely grated Parmesan as well as coarsely grated Emmental (or Gruyere).
I make my bechamel on the loose side, not too thick, as I like to serve it with Basmati rice, and want the bechamel to behave more like a sauce, rather than a set “pudding” like.
1 large onion chopped
½ kg ground beef
8-10 medium size zucchini
½ cup pine nuts (roasted)
1 cup Parmesan
1 cup emmental
for the bechamel:
4 heaped tablespoons flour
4 cups full milk
2 cups water
1 soup cube
saute onion in a bit of olive oil
add the ground beef, brown, cover and simmer till tender
mix in the roasted pine nuts
set mixture aside
P.S. I almost always forget to mention salt & pepper in my recipes, but I can assure you that I season my food well! I always use coarse sea salt, and coarsely ground black pepper. And I do my seasoning as I go along, layering the flavours as I proceed. Not in the end as some people prefer. I believe that the seasoning should be part of the gradual construction of the dish, and not come at its very end, almost as an added “after thought”!!!
back to our dish…….
chop the zucchini into fairly uniform rounds
saute in a bit of olive oil using two spatulas to mix (as if you’re stir frying). Keep an eye on it, and keep the mixing going until the bright green of the zucchini is somewhat “dulled”. Difficult to explain any better, just compare pictures 2 and 3.
add the ground beef mixture to the zucchini in the pot, add a tiny bit of water to cook further, until the zucchini is done to your liking. It is important that most of the liquid be gone before you pour the contents of the pot into your Pyrex dish, otherwise the excess water will affect the consistency of the sauce in the finished dish
set aside to cool
when cool, sprinkle 1/4 a cup of the grated Parmesan
Now for the Bechamel:
I find that the secret of a successful bechamel is to add enough fat (by fat I mean olive oil) in the start, so that the flour/fat mixture be “loose” in the pan, not lumped together like a ball. If you start with this consistency, you almost always end up with a successful bechamel, smooth and with no lumps whatsoever Ofcourse you can use butter instead of olive oil if you prefer, just keep to the loose flour/fat mixture principal. If for some crazy reason you end up with lumps in your bechamel, don’t panic, you can always use a hand mixer to smooth out the lumps.
Heat your fat in the pot
add the flour
mix with whisk until mixture bubbles
add the milk and keep whisking
add the water and keep whisking
let thicken on medium heat
when you achieve the desired consistency, add ¼ cup of grated Parmesan, and ½ cup of emmental
mix well to incorporate
pour the bechamel on the zucchini mixture, making sure to cover all. Your bechamel is not thick at all, so it will penetrate through the entire content of the dish seeping through to the bottom
sprinkle the remaining Parmesan (¼ cup), and the remaining emmental (½ cup)
bake in a pre-heated 200centigrade oven, for as long as it takes for the mixture to bubble throughout, and for the top to be a nice golden brown.
Let cool for at least a ½ hour before serving to acquire a bit of a body, otherwise if you cut through while still too hot the whole dish will just run into each other and look like mush. It will still be delicious but mush nevertheless.
Serve with Basmati on the side.