Summertime Zucchini Bake a la Provence

August. Time to take advantage of all that fresh, local produce available at your grocer, or maybe in your own back yard. Here's a recipe that takes its lead from the savory summertime dishes of Provence or Tuscany.

Very easy to prepare, it's a side dish that takes literally minutes from garden to table. You can make it spicy, cheesy, crunchy or herb-filled. Or all of the above! Put your imagination cap on, and get our your sharpest knives and best French salt. You'll find yourself making this wonderful dish over and over again, trying variations on flavor as your mood and heart desire. An excellent accompaniment to steaks, chops, and sandwiches, or serve it over fresh linguine for a marvelous meatless entrée.

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1-2 medium to large green or yellow zucchini, cut in 1" cubes
1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 tsp. Fleur de Sel (French salt, available at specialty food stores)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs, or Panko breadcrumbs
2-3 sprigs each of fresh parsley, thyme and basil, chopped finely
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
2 ripe tomatoes, cubed
1 cup eggplant, skin removed and cubed

Preheat oven to 400 F.
1. Sauté garlic and onion gently in oil and 1 tbsp. of the butter until translucent.

2. Add zucchini, tomato and eggplant (if using), seasonings and fresh herbs and desired options.
Sauté, stirring occasionally, until just tender and slightly browned and crispy, about five minutes.

3. Pour into an oven-proof casserole.

4. Top with seasoned breadcrumbs or Panko. If using seasoned breadcrumbs, mix with the grated cheese and sprinkle over all. Dot with other tbsp. of butter, cut into small bits.
5. If making ahead, cover with aluminum foil and set aside. Can be made up to five hours in advance of serving.
6. Bake at 400F for 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let set five minutes before serving.

Mussels Marinara


Muscle your way into his (or her) heart with this spicy Italian favorite. It takes no time at all to pull it together and is a satisfying meal for two with very little effort.

1-1/4 lb. mussels, scrubbed and washed
1  28-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1/2 bottle/jar store-bought tomato sauce
2 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. crushed hot red pepper flakes
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/2 cup Chianti wine

Eric's Touch
Serve with buccatini, perciatelli, fetuccini, linguine, or other hearty sauce-grabbing pasta

Italian bread, served warm and crusty
Salad of arugula with lemon basil dressing

Chop garlic and sauté lightly in olive oil in large dutch oven or casserole until translucent and oil is fully fragrant with the garlic.  Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, oregano, salt and pepper, Chianti, hot red pepper flakes, and basil. Allow to simmer, covered, stirring often, adjusting seasonings as needed, for 1/2 hour or more.

Add mussels to broth. Simmer, covered, for 5-7 minutes, or until mussels are opened. Discard any unopened mussels.  Serve with Italian bread and an arugula salad.  Thanks to my neighbor, Eric, the super cook, for adding just the right touch -- he coupled the mussels with a hearty pasta, giving this dish wonderful depth and heft. Bravo!