Parmigiana bianca di zucchine

Frankantipasti, secondi piatti33 Comments

Parmigiana bianca di zucchine

The Italian dish we all know and mostly love called la parmigiana is world famous. But did you know that you can make a parmigiana with vegetables other than eggplant? Regular readers may have already read about making parmigiane with zucchini and artichokes. Today I want to share yet another version of the dish: parmigiana bianca di zucchini, or White Zucchini Parmesan.

It’s called bianca or “white” because unlike a classic parmigiana, a parmigiana bianca is made without tomato sauce. Béchamel usually replaces it, but in this simplified lighter version of the dish, you forgo sauces altogether. You simply layer slices of zucchini together with slices of ham and a creamy meltable cheese like mozzarella, scamorza or a mild provolone, then bake until cooked through and golden brown on top. And to make things even easier, you needn’t bother pre-cooking the zucchini as you normally would, though you do prep it to purge its excess liquid.

It’s probably the simplest parmigiana you’ll ever make. And the result is a “cleaner” dish that, while not exactly dietetic given all the ham and cheese that goes in it, sits more lightly on the stomach without sacrificing any flavor. In fact, that ham and cheese combination infuses the mild flavored zucchini with so much savory goodness that it might make converts out of all those zucchini haters out there. Or kids who won’t eat their veggies.

Though vegetable based, a parmigiana bianca di zucchini is too substantial and elaborate to be a mere side dish. It works better as either an antipasto (in small portions) or a main course.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1.5 kilos (3 lbs) small or medium zucchini
  • 250 g (1/2 lb) sliced ham
  • 500g (1 lb) mozzarella, scamorza, mild provolone or another meltable cheese, thinly sliced (see Notes)
  • 50g (2 oz) freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • salt
  • butter

Directions

Trim your zucchini top and bottom, then slice very thinly (2-3mm or 1/8 inch) lengthwise with the help of a mandolin or the slicer disk on a food processor.

Lay the zucchini slices out in a single layer on a tray, then sprinkle them on both sides with salt. Lay them on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, then cover them with another sheet of paper and lay on another layer of zucchini, which you will also salt. Repeat until you’ve used up your zucchini slices. Lay over a final sheet of paper, then place a cutting board on top, which you weigh down with a can or other object.

Let the zucchini slices steep for at least an hour. They should have exuded quite a bit of liquid and become even thinner. Pat the slices dry with paper towels, pressing down gently to squeeze out yet more liquid without, however, bruising them.

Now take a large baking dish. (It should be large enough to hold all the zucchini in 3 or 4 layers). Butter the bottom and sides generously, then cover the bottom with a layer of zucchini slices, ever so slightly overlapping. Lay over a slice or two ham, then slices of your cheese of choice. Sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano. (If you like a richer result, dot with butter.)

Repeat until you’ve used up all your zucchini. For the last layer, omit the ham and make sure the cheese covers the zucchini completely. It’s preferable at this point to use cheese that’s been grated or cut into tiny cubes.

Place the dish in a pre-heated oven set to 190C/375F. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the top has browned nicely.

Let your parmigiana bianca rest at least 10 minutes before serving still warm.

Parmigiana bianca di zucchine

Notes

Other than the initial prep of the zucchini, which is admittedly a little fussy, this parmigiana bianca practically makes itself. But you will face one pitfall: excess liquid. You see, zucchini is a whopping 95% water. If left to its own devices, that liquid will exude into the dish while it bakes. And here the zucchini is baked raw and “naked”, i.e, without any breading to sop up excess juices. So if you’re not careful, you could wind up with a soupy mess.

So here’s what you do: First of all, choose small or medium zucchini. Large zucchini not only tend to have less flavor, but the larger a zucchini is the higher its water content. And whatever size they may be, slice your zucchini thin as indicated and do not skip the initial prepping of zucchini. It’s crucial for drawing out as much excess liquid as you can.

Choose a cheese that, while creamy and meltable—remember, the cheese is playing the role of sauce here—isn’t going to exude too much whey as it cooks. As mentioned, scamorza or a mild provolone work particularly well, as would a fontina, mild munster, Emmenthal or gruyère. Mozzarella also works well, so long as you use the dry type—the kind you would use on pizza—rather than the fresh variety packed in whey that you’d eat on its own.

And finally, a word to the wise for our readers in the US, UK and other countries where processed ham is a thing: avoid ham which has been injected with brine, which in some cases can reach as much as an incredible 23% by weight. Processed ham will exude liquid as it bakes. The tell tale signs of this kind of ham are an unnaturally regular shape (often perfectly round or rectangular with rounded corners) and tiny holes in the meat. In the US, it can go by the names “ham with natural juices”, “ham water added” or the sinister sounding “ham and water product”. If in doubt, go to the deli counter and ask for real ham rather than buying packaged sliced ham.

If despite your efforts you wind up with too much liquid in the bottom of your baking dish, you can just continue baking for a while longer to evaporate excess liquid. (Cover the dish if the top is browning too much.) And if all else fails, you can simply drain excess liquid out of the dish before serving.

The classic recipe

If you’re looking for something a bit creamier and more filling, you can prepare your parmigiana bianca di zucchine following the classic recipe. It follows the same basic outlines as above, but with two main differences:

First, you pre-cook the zucchini slices before assembling the dish. There are various ways to do this. Perhaps most commonly, you grill them lightly, typically not on an actual outdoor grill but on a stovetop grill pan (which Italians call a “bistecchiera“). A griddle, of course, would also do. Or you can oven roast them briefly.

Second, make a béchamel sauce (say about 500ml/2 cups) and cover each layer of zucchini lightly before laying on the hame and cheese. Top off the last layer of zucchini generously with bechamel, too, before sprinkling with that last layer of cheese. Dot with butter and into the oven it goes.

Parmigiana bianca di zucchini

"White" Zucchini Parmesan
Prep Time1 hour
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time1 hour 30 minutes
Course: Antipasto, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: baked, vegetable

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kilos 3 lbs small or medium zucchini
  • 250g 1/2 lb ham sliced
  • 500g 1 lb mozzarella, scamorza, mild provolone or another meltable cheese, thinly sliced
  • 50g 2 oz parmigiano-reggiano freshly grated
  • salt
  • butter

Instructions

  • Trim your zucchini top and bottom, then slice them very thinly (2-3mm or 1/8 inch) lengthwise with the help of a mandolin or the slicer disk on a food processor. 
  • Lay the zucchini slices out in a single layer on a tray, then sprinkle them on both sides with salt. Lay over a sheet of parchment or wax paper, then another layer of zucchini slices, which you will also salt. Repeat until you've used up all the slices. Lay over a final sheet of paper, then a cutting board, which you can weigh down with a can or other object.
  • Let the zucchini steep for at least an hour. The slices should have exuded quite a bit of liquid and become even thinner. Pat them dry with paper towels, pressing down gently to squeeze out yet more liquid without, however, bruising them. 
  • Now take a large baking dish. (It should be large enough to hold all the zucchini in 3 or 4 layers). Butter the bottom and sides generously, then cover the bottom with a layer of zucchini slices, ever so slightly overlapping. Then lay over a slice or two ham, then slices of your cheese of choice. Sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano. (If you like a richer result, dot with butter.) 
  • Repeat until you've used up all your zucchini. For the last layer, omit the ham and make sure the cheese covers the zucchini completely. It's preferable at this point to use cheese that's been grated or cut into tiny cubes. 
  • Place the dish in a pre-heated oven set to 190C/375F. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the top has browned nicely. 
  • Let your parmigiana bianca rest at least 10 minutes before serving. 

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33 Comments on “Parmigiana bianca di zucchine”

    1. Thanks for the catch! And for the tip on Tromboncino squash. I remember seeing them in Italy but have sadly never here…

  1. Oh, I am absolutely intrigued by this White Zucchini Parmesan, or parmigiana bianca di zucchini! I’ve always loved the classic eggplant parmigiana, but this version without the tomato sauce sounds like a delightful twist.

  2. Holy cow, Frank! This sounds like a fantastic way to use extra zucchini. The thought of Zucchini Parmesan covered with cheese and ham sounds like an amazing summer comfort food meal. Thanks for the idea – as well as the tips on draining those zukes.

  3. Now this is right up my alley, I just adore white sauce casseroles! This one is definitely going on my menu plan soon. I learned the hard way that zucchini is mostly water, I made a watery zucchini lasagna and although it was tasty, it was very wet!!! So your tips are fantastic.
    In Canada, a product that is injected with brine will have a ‘percentage of meat protein’ on the label and is usually labelled “seasoned” (apparently, that is enough for the CFIA but most Canadian’s have no idea what that means).

  4. OOOH yes to this! I’m not a fan of melanzane unless it’s pickled, so this is perfect! Have been wanting to make a white lasagna for ages, but maybe this will come first!

  5. Frank, this is a fantastic way to elevate the overly abundant summer zucchini. This really looks good. I am feeling inspired. Thanks.

    Velva

  6. Love, love, love zucchini – could eat it every day – what a very simple way to make a full delightful meal using it . . . guess what. 🙂 ?

    1. I don’t. Assuming you don’t overdo it the salting also seasons the dish. But if you’re watching your sodium I suppose you could.

  7. I’ve never made this — but what a simple and beautiful dish. I love the combination of flavors, and — honestly — something with no sauce seems so appealing in this heat!

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