Growing up in the country, summer meant tomato sandwiches and corn on the cob and green beans and zucchini casserole.
Our summer diet revolved around what grew in the garden or could be purchased cheaply at the farmer’s market. So these fresh ingredients regularly found their way to our table. Our summer existence included watermelon, fresh garden tomatoes (made into tomato sandwiches almost every day for lunch), corn on the cob, fresh cooked green beans (neither canned nor frozen are any comparison), and Mama’s zucchini casserole. These foods signaled summer.
This tender, cheesy use of zucchini, topped with a hint of crispiness, was always one of my favorites, one that I have introduced to my family. (Unfortunately, my little likes neither zucchini nor melted cheese, so there is always more left for me!)
My mother improvised and combined two separate recipes she learned from my Grandma, creating the one I remember. (Even this has morphed over time, so that the recipe I had scrawled on a scrap of notebook paper years ago was a bit different from what my mother told me over the phone a few weeks ago.)
The recipe I am sharing here is a close approximation to how I remember it growing up, simplified for use by a busy cook.
Zucchini Casserole—The Perfect Summertime Dish
- Lighter than bread or meat but more filling than salad
- Contains protein (milk, eggs, and cheese), so it could serve as the main dish
- A vegetable side dish with nutrition and flavor
- Mild enough to pair well with a variety of other dishes
A Simple Summer Supper Staple
Tomato sandwiches were a summer staple in our household when I was growing up. Often for lunch, sometimes for a quick supper. We spread slices of homemade bread with Miracle Whip, then stacked on—at minimum—a thick slab of tomato and a slice of cheese. We often embellished these with onion slices, fresh or dried basil, and occasionally turkey ham. In some form, tomato sandwiches were how my mother fed us through the summer. (These would not work with mealy, flavorless store-bought tomatoes. The flavor was in the sun-ripened, fresh off the vine variety.)
Often, for a quick and simple supper, my mother set out tomato sandwich making supplies, and baked a zucchini casserole.
Accompaniment to a Hearty Spread
My sister remembers more elaborate meals—hearty but simply homemade. My mother fed us from the garden and from the farmer’s market if she couldn’t grow it all herself. So meals could also include oven-fried chicken accompanied by corn on the cob, tomatoes, coleslaw, garden-fresh green beans, and of course, zucchini casserole.
Zucchini Casserole, a Thrifty Choice
My parents never had a lot of money but we always ate well. My mother worked hard, cooking everything from scratch. (My father’s employer told me my mother could “stretch a dime a mile”!)
Being frugal, we ate what was in season, not purchasing non-staple fruits or vegetables from the grocery store when they were out of season (and therefore more expensive and less tasty). So our summer meals centered around the garden, enjoying flavors that were so much better fresh than frozen or canned. (For more on eating well on a frugal budget, read Our $50 Budget: Thriving on Simplicity.)
My mother’s garden zucchini grew faster than we could use it. I remember finding over-grown zucchini in the garden, swollen big like baseball bats. Too tough and seedy to use, those we tossed to the chickens.
One attempt (among many) to keep up with zucchini production (and eliminate waste) was to frequently bake zucchini casseroles.
Unlike my mother’s plants, zucchini doesn’t do well for me—squash-vine borers always destroy the plants just when they are starting to produce. So I buy fresh and local, which is still inexpensive! I usually can get four zucchini for a dollar while they are abundant in the summer.
My mother was never an exact cook, so this recipe can stretch or shrink to include more or less zucchini, using up what you have on hand. Why stick half a zucchini back in the refrigerator to spoil when you can toss the rest of it into the casserole?
As with the zucchini, so with the cheese (the most expensive ingredient in this recipe). Love cheese? Use 2 cups. Prefer to save money and use cheese sparingly? Use 1 cup.
Simple Steps for Zucchini Casserole
Though this recipe contains a dozen ingredients, the steps for making it are fairly simple.
Chop the Vegetables
Steam the Vegetables
Blend the Wet Ingredients
Combine the Ingredients in the Pan
Prepare the Topping
Bake and Enjoy!
- 4-6 c chopped zucchini
- 1 c chopped onion
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
- dash black pepper to taste
- 3 eggs
- 1 c milk
- 1 Tbsp prepared horseradish
- 1-2 c grated cheese (cheddar, longhorn, or colby jack are best, but any can be used–see note below)
- 1 1/2 c crushed crackers (or 1 sleeve of Saltine crackers, which makes 2 cups of crumbs)
- 3 Tbsp butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 2- or 3-quart casserole dish (I use a 9"x13")
- Melt 4 Tbsp. butter in saucepan until sizzling and add zucchini, onion, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and water. Steam zucchini until tender, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, beat eggs, then stir in milk, horseradish, and grated cheese. (Or toss all in the blender and pulse until eggs are well-mixed and cheese is broken up.)
- Add steamed zucchini directly to the greased casserole dish, then pour egg mixture over top. Gently stir ingredients to evenly distribute zucchini chunks.
- Melt 3 Tbsp. butter and stir into cracker crumbs. (Or dice cold butter and dot on top of the cracker crumbs in next step.)
- Sprinkle cracker crumb topping over the casserole, with an extra dash of Italian seasoning, if desired.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until egg is set and top is golden.