Grilled Zucchini and Mushroom Pasta al Forno

1 lb whole wheat spaghetti

2 lbs of zucchini cut into thick slices about 1″ (I used 2 globe zucchini)
extra virgin olive oil
garlic powder
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

1 lb crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
vegetable oil

1 large onion, diced, divided
5 garlic cloves, minced, divided

2 large cans diced tomatoes
1/2 C dry white wine
red pepper flakes
1/4 C fresh basil chiffonade
1 small jar capers

mixture of white Italian cheeses* such as:
parmigiano reggiano

Sauté on medium heat half of the diced onion in about 1 T each of olive oil and butter and until softened, adding kosher salt to sweat the onion. Add in red pepper flakes to taste as well as the drained capers and half of the minced garlic. Once the garlic is soft, add in the wine and cook until nearly evaporated. Add in the tomatoes and their juices and lower the heat. Simmer all ingredients on low until ready to assemble in a large casserole dish, adding a little water as needed to keep the sauce rather thin but still flavourful.

Brush your zucchini slices with olive oil and season liberally with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and garlic powder. Grill until very well done where you have very intense grill marks and it is rather soft – which makes it important to have thick slices else it will fall apart.   I like to grill until just before it becomes burnt – this really intensifies the flavour of the zucchini and gives the end dish a very nice smokey flavour.  Allow to cool and then slice into 1/2″ wide strips.

Heat a cast iron pan which has a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in it until very hot. Add mushrooms and sauté until well browned. Lower the heat to medium low and add in the other half of the diced onion, rest of the garlic, a couple tablespoons of butter and season with salt and pepper. Continue to sauté until the onions are soft, being careful to not let either onions or garlic burn.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Boil spaghetti until it is just underdone – remove and drain before the al dente stage because it will continue to cook in the oven.

Take the sauce off the heat and add in your chiffonade of basil.

Layer in the casserole dish a few ladlefulls of sauce, about half the pasta, then more sauce, 3/4 of the mushrooms, 2/3 of the grilled zucchini, 1/2 the cheese and then the rest of the pasta, the rest of the mushrooms and zucchini, the remainder of the sauce, and finally top with the last half of the cheese.  Bake in a 375F oven for about 25-40 minutes until the cheese is browned and the sauce is bubbly.  I garnished the top with a small handful of basil flowers I stripped off the stem from my basil plants.

*In any baked pasta dish I like a mixture of at least three cheeses – a nice melty cheese like mozzarella or havarti, a salty robust hard cheese like parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano, and a medium, full-bodied cheese like fontina. I used what I had on hand which was: mozzarella, havarti, parmigiano reggiano, and extra sharp white cheddar, and it turned out very well indeed.


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