Courgette, Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Gratin - 'From Tunnel to Table' recipe for Autumn

 

1. From this - cubed courgettes, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella 2. To this. Raw cubed ingredients pressed down and drizzled with the Pesto sauce 3. And finally to this. If only you could smell this - piping hot and bubbling with deliciousness. Just out of the oven!
1. From this - cubed courgettes, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella 2. To this. Raw cubed ingredients pressed down and drizzled with the Pesto sauce 3. And finally to this. If only you could smell this - piping hot and bubbling with deliciousness. Just out of the oven!
 
I've been trying to think up a new recipe that would use up odd bits of courgette and tomatoes for ages - and came up with this super-easy one by accident.  I also happened to have some left-over pesto sauce at the time! I hate wasting any leftover bits of anything that's edible - even those little courgettes that may go mouldy at one end at this time of year on the plant - as they often do in damp autumn weather - even though they may still have even small, but perfectly edible good bits! 
 
 
From my Polytunnel Potager, the seasonal produce used in this courgettes, tomatoes, basil and garlic. Many gardeners will still have those at this time of year - but if you don't - then they are easily available everywhere.
 
 
It's a very quick and super-easy recipe if you already have the pesto sauce available - either fresh or frozen. I always have some on had as it's so useful. But if you don't - it's very easy to make if you have all the ingredients to hand and home made is so much nicer than shop bought pesto.
 
 
It's an 'LCHF' - or 'Low Carb High Fat' - Mediterranean-inspired recipe so is suitable for those on healthy low carbohydrate and/or Mediterranean diets.
 
 
It serves 2-3 as a vegetarian main dish with a green salad and crusty bread - or with potatoes or rice (my method of lowering carbs in rice and potatoes by 50% - using a process known as retrogradation which also makes them more gut-healthy - is with this years midsummer recipe - link here:  ) 
 
 
It goes really well with fish or chicken and makes a perfect side dish for 4-6 if you are eating low-carb, or 4-6 as a starter. 
 
 
It can also be prepared or made ahead and gently re-heated. So you can make it at the weekend for one or two people and re-heated during the week. You can just portion it up after cooking, refrigerate for several days and re-heat it gently. It's a really convenient fast supper or side-dish if you're busy during the week and don't have time to cook.
 
 
It is so super-easy and so fast to prepare that a child could do it!  It takes about one hour in total to prepare (15 mins) and to cook (45 mins).  I won't insult your intelligence by doing step by step pictures of how to cube courgettes or mozzarella - and actually Gerry was so keen to get at it that I completely forgot to take a picture of it served with the fresh warm crusty bread and salad if I'm honest!! I'll add another pic the next time I make it.
 
Equipment
 
 
You will need a large shallow, oven-proof baking dish roughly 25 cm in diameter.
 
 
Ingredients:
 
(these amounts are not absolutely critical. Slightly more or less - whatever you have is fine)
 
 
500g of any kind of courgette (I used Atena yellow courgette) - cubed to about the size of sugar lumps - no bigger.
 
(You don't have to pre-salt and drain these - but the dish is so much better, and the juices more deliciously concentrated if you have time. Just sprinkle some salt lightly all over the pieces and mix around with your hands a bit - then put in a colander to drain for 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour. It's surprising how much water will drain out of them - 500g of courgettes can lose as much as 50g of water in that time. Then when you're ready to use them - just quickly rinse under the cold tap to get rid of any excess salt and then pat dry with towel. Then they're ready to proceed with the recipe).
 
 
500g Tomatoes of any type - medium round types 1/4d - or beefsteaks cubed - or small cherry tomatoes halved. 
 
I like it best made with cherry tomatoes halved - especially the small cherry plum types like Rosada, Apero or Blush as their sweetness make this extra-especially delicious. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to skin tomatoes as some people recommend! Doing this wastes precious nutrients like Lycopene which are just under and in the skin, and it also wastes gut-healthy fibre. (If you're using large beefsteaks or medium tomatoes which may have a plug of tough, woody bit where they join the stalk - just cut this out, that's all) 
 
The first time I tried this recipe I used the odd bits and pieces of large beefsteak tomatoes - the tops and bottoms left after making a sliced beefsteak salad. That wasn't quite as good as just using only cherry tomatoes or a mixture of the two - as the beefsteaks were more runny and they didn't have quite as good a flavour when cooked.
 
 
1 average-sized ball of Mozzarella drained and cut into small cubes. Cow's or Buffalo is fine - but cow's is far easier to cut up
 
 
50g Parmesan cheese - finely grated from a block - not the horrible stuff out of packets which tastes like sawdust!
 
 
100-130g pesto sauce with 2 extra tablespoons of organic extra-virgin olive oil stirred in to loosen slightly - a bit more or less not critical - it will still taste great.
 
 
50g  freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
 
 
A small sprinkle of salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
 
 
 
Method:
 
 
1. Make the pesto sauce if you don't have it already. 
(my pesto sauce recipe, which is already on my blog, is repeated below this one for convenience) This can be made ahead and covered with a little olive oil to keep the air out of it - this stops it from going brown on top. The recipe here will make too much but the rest is very useful frozen in ice cube trays and used for other dressings or more toppings. 1 cube of pesto thawed in some olive oil makes a great salad dressing or is good drizzled on pizza or bread.
 
 
2. Turn the oven on to 190 deg C
 
 
3. Put the cubed courgettes, the mozzarella cubes and the tomato pieces in the greased dish and season with salt and pepper.
 
 
4. Mix them all together roughly with your hands and flatten down slightly.
 
 
5. Drizzle or spoon the thinned pesto sauce over all the vegetables in the baking dish.
 
 
6. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 190C 
 
 
7. Turn oven up to 200C 
 
 
8. Take the gratin out of oven at this point and sprinkle the grated Parmesan all over the top. 
 
 
9.Return to the oven for another 15 minutes until golden on top and courgettes soft when tested with fork ( this depends on toughness and size of the courgettes going into oven).
 
 
10. Take out of oven - leave to rest for 10 minutes and serve warm with some nice crusty bread to mop up all the delicious juices! It's smells so fantastic you'll find it hard to wait before trying it - but like most things - it tastes far better left to cool for just a few minutes first. Enjoy!
 
 
Here's my recipe for Pesto Sauce:
 
Ingredients
 
75g/3oz Fresh or frozen basil leaves.
(fresh will give you a lovely bright emerald green colour immediately - using basil straight from frozen as I do in winter it's paler to start with but as it thaws it also goes bright green)
 
3 large cloves of garlic chopped or crushed (use less if you don't like a lot of garlic but I think this amount is best)
 
2 level tablespoons of pine nuts.
Try to use organic if you can. AS with all organic ingredients - the flavour is always immeasurably better, and make sure they have a long expiry date as they can go 'off' and rancid quite quickly sitting on a warm shop shelf! Always keep them in the fridge for this reason.
 
7 tablespoons of a good, organic, cold-pressed, unfiltered, extra-virgin olive oil.
 
50g/2ozs Parmesan cheese - organic if possible. 
Gran Reggiano, freshly grated from a block is best. Don't attempt to use that dried rubbish sold in packets as it would ruin the taste of anything! 
 
A good pinch of sea salt to taste
 
 
 
Method:
 
 
1. Assemble all the pesto ingredients, then just throw everything into the blender/food processor and process until the sauce is a smooth paste. Scrape down the sides once when it's nearly done to ensure it all gets blended. Couldn't be easier
 
2. Put it into a bowl and cover closely with cling film smeared with a thin film of olive oil until needed. This ensures it comes off easily without the pesto sticking to it. Never leave pesto sauce open to the air as it oxidises and turns brown very quickly on contact with air, losing it's lovely flavour.
 
(If using frozen basil - you can throw it straight in with all the other ingredients when making the sauce - but don't taste the sauce until it's all completely thawed or it has almost no flavour!)
 
**I always use all organic ingredients in my cooking but that's up to you. Most organic ingredients are higher in nutrients, so are actually better value for money - and of course there are far fewer pesticides or heavy metal residues in them too!  
 
 

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