Cindy Gerken wins judges' approval all the way around for her yummy, warm-from-the-oven zucchini tomato dish.
|Cindy Gerken of Bowling Green with her zucchini casserole. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
It's the July winner of the Bowling Green Downtown Farmer's Market recipe contest and will make a public debut at Wednesday's market, where taste samples will be offered starting at 5:30.
"It was super easy to throw together and it's hearty," noted judge Mat Manley.
General consensus of those who taste-tested the concoction: The dish had "good flavor from the vegetables as well as the spices used," and was topped with cheese and baked.
Gerken acquired the recipe from a friend and neighbor in 1984, the year she was a senior at Bowling Green High School.
"She gave me a copy of the St. Al's cookbook. She had actually put this recipe in the cookbook, in the vegetable section."
Even though Gerken was just 17 or 18 at the time, "I've cooked forever" so the neighbor knew her gift would be welcome.
In the decades since, Gerken's made the dish for potlucks "or just when I want something different for a vegetable side dish. During tomato and zucchini season the most, when we have a lot of those in the garden.
"I grew up in a family of gardeners and good cooks, which is a great combination for the Farmer's Market recipe contest," admits Gerken, a lifelong Bowling Green resident.
"My whole family has always enjoyed sharing garden items with others."
She still has a vivid memory of her Grandpa Klotz, of local greenhouse fame, the year he had a bumper season of growing cantaloupes. "He had bushels and bushels of them. He spent most of the day passing them out around town and countryside and would leave them on porches or by doors when people were not home."
The Gerkens themselves have a back-yard garden, which is mostly her husband's "baby."
"We'll plant all kinds of stuff - celery, pea pods, eggplant, and of course all the traditional items - onions, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers. We have lots of cucumbers this year."
Gerken said she actually has a number of good zucchini recipes. She chose to enter the tomato and zucchini casserole in the contest for two reasons: It's simple, and healthy. "You can't get simpler than this recipe."
Prep time is 15 minutes, tops, she figures.
"I grew up with all kinds of gardens and vegetables. So I'm used to all kinds of fresh vegetables," to the extent that she virtually always opts to cook with fresh.
"I'm not much for canned."
"My dad still has a truck stand table in his trailer park in Florida and distributes them. He'll bring up fresh vegetables (for us) when he comes up. He's done that forever."
Gerken acknowledges having a hard time following a recipe. "I just have to tweak it. I'll add kind of whatever I have to this recipe," including such extra vegetables as mushrooms and cooked carrots. She also likes to switch around the spices, at times.
"Sometimes instead of the seasoning I just sprinkle on some Tastefully Simple seasoning salt or garlic salt. This recipe is very versatile.
"Now, I've never thrown hamburger or sausage or ham in it, but it would probably work," Gerken added.
Judge Mat Manley likes the idea of adding protein.
"A neutral meat would compliment this dish well; chicken, veal or pork," he believes. "A grilled chicken breast would be really tasty with it."
Parents are always looking for ways to get kids to eat more vegetables, and fellow judge Chris Haar thinks Gerken is on to something with this recipe.
"The cheese may help to get kids to eat it more willingly," he suggested.
Another way to do that is to allow children an active role in cooking the meal.
"My mom would let me cook whatever I wanted, and she'd get the ingredients if I let her know ahead of time and as long as I cleaned up afterward," Gerken recalls.
"I would find stuff in magazines and cook with my mom and grandma."
This is Gerken's first time entering the BG Farmer's Market recipe contest, but she often enters - and has placed in - the Wood County Fair baking category as well as the 4-H Bakeoff.
"We've done that a number of years and the girls have fun with that," said Gerken of daughter Emily, now a college student, and Elizabeth, a BGHS senior.
Gerken herself, the former Cindy Germann, is currently juggling two jobs - as a deputy clerk at the Bowling Green Municipal Court and at the Holiday Inn Express.
She offered one helpful cook's preparation suggestion not obvious in her written recipe.
Both the zucchini and tomato, being water-heavy vegetables, tend to create their own excess liquid during the cooking process, so she sometimes finds she needs to strain off excess water after baking.
Zucchini tomato casserole
Number of servings: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
3 C. slightly under-cooked diced zucchini
½ C. chopped onion
3 Diced tomatoes
½ tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
Dash of oregano
Dash of basil
Dash of garlic
½ lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
Lightly mix all ingredients except cheese in a baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese to top. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until cheese melts and is slightly brown.
* Other veggies can be added if desired, such as cooked carrots, asparagus and mushrooms. Sometimes instead of the seasoning I just sprinkle on some Tastefully Simple seasoning salt or garlic salt.
Calories: 140, Fat: 5 g., Carbohydrate: 8 g., Protein: 12 g., Sodium: 210 mg.
Analysis based on approximately six 1-cup servings even though technically 1⁄2 cup of vegetables equals a serving.