For all of you non-Polish folk, “Babci” means grandmother. My Babci is acutally my great-grandmother. But I’ve always called her Babci since that’s what my mother called her. It may not make much sense, but that’s how it’s always been.
Babci may have passed away when I was too young to remember her, but that hasn’t stopped her from being such a big part of my life. I feel like I know her so well. My family has told me many stories about her and, wow, what a woman she must’ve been.
She didn’t work outside the home, so she spent the majority of her time cooking things up in the kitchen. She was an excellent cook, living in a time where you didn’t measure or follow someone else’s recipe; you just cooked by feel. I still return to her fantastic rice pudding recipe every time a craving hits me. There’s nothing else like it.
I’m not a huge believer in the paranormal or anything like that, but sometimes I feel that there is a part of Babci alive in my own heart. I have all these attributes that make my parents say, “Where on Earth did you get that from?” I am creative and artsy. I love to cook. I’m obsessed with the holidays. Neither of my parents (or even my grandparents) possess traits like these. But you know who did? Babci.
It’s eerie how much we are alike. My mother tells me all the time how Babci would go all-out decorating her home for the holidays, especially Halloween (which is my favorite as well). I too am a holidayaholic. My home is festively decked out for every occasion thanks to me. I wish I could’ve known Babci during that time in her life. I wish our lives had overlapped more. I wish I could’ve soaked her in before she left this Earth.
If you’re wondering what this all has to do with zucchini casserole, well, I’m getting there. We have a collection of “recipes” left behind by my Babci, all of which are sublime. I say “recipes” because they’re not very formal. There are often measurements missing (sometimes whole ingredients) or vague instructions. I almost like it. It leaves it up to you to make it taste good so that they are always the best “whatever you’re making” (that rice pudding, for example). Zucchini Casserole, or, as it is originally know, Zucchini Hamburger Casserole, is a part of that recipe repertoire. Yes, you can make it with hamburger and I will show you how. That’s how it’s originally done. However, I left it out for a vegetarian version and it was so freakin delicious that you will never miss the meat.
My mom treated me to a story about how Babci would whip up gargantuan batches of Zucchini (Hamburger) Casserole so that she could share it with the family. She would call up my grandmother and her sisters, Babci’s daughters, and tell them to come pick up some casserole. It was always an exciting phone call. Everyone LOVED that stuff. They were more than willing to oblige and go pick it up.
So now, I am going to share this recipe with you. It’s very special and, as you can tell, has been in the family for a while. It’s so ridiculously easy that you will laugh when you eat it. You’ll laugh because it will be one of the best, most delicious things you have EVER put in your mouth, and it was so simple to make. It reminds you how complicated cooking has become. People didn’t complicate things in the olden days. They just made food taste good.
This is cheesy, hearty, and so wonderfully comforting. It has worked its way into my top favorite foods, which is no easy feat. Please make it. There’s bread, cheese, potatoes, zucchini, garlic, tomatoes sauce and more CHEESE. What more could you want? This casserole is perfection, period, end of story.
Thank you Babci.
A few tips before you get cooking:
- This is quick to put together, but requires an hour and a half of cooking time. Plan ahead!
- Make it with or without meat; it’s freakin delicious no matter what.
- Use a nice, sturdy bread.
- Like the others in Babci’s collection, this recipe had some holes. Never fear; I did my best to fill them for you.
Zucchini (Hamburger) Casserole
- 2 or 3 carrots (sliced thin)
- 2 large yukon gold potatoes (sliced tin)
- 1 onion (sliced thin)
- 8 cups sliced zucchini (sliced thick)
- 2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
- 5 slices of bread, cubed
- 1/2 pound velveeta cheese, cubed
- 3/4 cup of sharp cheddar cheese
- oregano, to taste
- parsley, to taste
- kosher salt, to taste
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- Optional: 1 pound ground beef
- Cook carrots, potatoes, onions, and zucchini with tomato sauce in a large pot over medium heat. Immediately add the oregano, parsley, salt, and garlic. When the mixture starts to bubble, reduce to low heat. Cover and cook for 45 min.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Turn off heat. Add velveeta to pot and stir until melted. Gently stir in bread.
- Pour mixture into a greased casserole dish and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese on to (depending on how cheesy you like it). Return to oven for five minutes, or until cheese is melted and slightly browned and the casserole is hot and bubbling. You could also pop it under the broiler instead.
- Scoop a big hunk onto plate and serve!
- Brown the beef in a pot. Add the carrots, potatoes, onion, zucchini, tomato sauce, oregano, garlic, parsley, and salt. When the mixture begins to bubble, reduce to low heat. Cover and cook for 45 min.
- Follow steps 2-5 above in Vegetarian Directions!
meat-eater style! (also sans cheese)
A delicious, comforting, heavenly recipe passed down to the next generation. You’re always in our hearts (and stomachs), Babci!