This cheesy potato casserole recipe was inspired by the version that I enjoyed at Dounias in Drakona, Crete. This mountain taverna was so unique. Most of the dishes were prepared in clay pots over wood fired stoves right in front of the main house and all the ingredients were raised or harvested right on the owner’s farm. We ate in a timber framed open-air pavilion across the street that looked out over the most beautiful views of high mountains and plunging valleys terraced with olive groves and covered with wild flowers and wild herbs.
Boureki is generally a layered dish of potatoes, zucchini and cheeses baked in generous amounts of olive oil. At Dounias (ΝΤΟΥΝΙΑΣ), they layered in some pumpkin and mountain herbs that brought the dish to a sublime combination of comfort food and exquisite culinary inventiveness.
In my version, and in my cooking in general, I like to use what I have which is often what is available at my local CSA, Mountain View Farm. So, I have had success making variations of this cheesy potato casserole using fresh fennel, butternut squash and I’ve even made it without cheese at all when there are guests who are sensitive to dairy.
One of the key notes that I took from that taverna in the mountains was the importance of the aromatic herbs in the flavor profile, so I can’t stress enough that the fresh mint is crucial to this dish. I also used some fresh sage that plays nicely with the squash layer. If you don’t have fresh oregano, that’s fine, but fresh is going to be best. Finally, if you like a little kick, you can choose to sprinkle some red pepper flakes in one of the layers so that some bites will have a tingling rush of heat.
Another important tip that I will share with you because I learned the hard way on this: Make sure your top layer is NOT potato. The thinly sliced spuds will turn into chewy potato chips in the heat of the oven. Finish the top layer with zucchini instead which stays moist and will brown to a caramelized texture.
Boureki (Cheesy Potato Casserole with Zucchini and Fresh Herbs)
To roast the squash: Half the acorn squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Roast in the oven ahead of time and set out to cool. This can be done the night before or use leftover squash for this part.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Slice zukes thin, lay out in layers on paper towels, sprinkle with sea salt to suck off moisture. (If you're pressed for time, you can get away with skipping the paper towels and salt)
Peel and slice the whole potatoes into thinly sliced rounds.
Cover the bottom of the 8 x 8 glass baking dish with a thin layer of EVOO then add the first layer of potatoes sprinkled with ground black pepper, followed by thin slices of cheddar cheese.
Next, add a layer of the sliced zukes with a sprinkle of oregano, ground pepper and parmesan cheese, then another thin layer of potatoes.
Scoop out the acorn squash meat from the skin, discard the skin. Squish out the squash as a layer then sprinkle on fresh chopped sage... less is more here - sage is a strong herb. Follow with another thin layer of potatoes.
In a mixing bowl, crumble the feta, oregano, mint and parsley together with your hands. and spread evenly across forming the next layer.
Final layer is zucchini again to fully cover the feta. This layer works well if it is two layers of zucchini edge to edge so that you can't see the feta below it.
Evenly pour the remaining EVOO over top to cover that last layer of zukes and let it flow down over everything below. Sprinkle some more oregano over top to taste.
Bake at 375 for 1 hour with a lid or parchment over the dish. Remove the parchment for the last 15 minutes or until the top layer is browned.
Gerry is an award-winning Web developer with skills in scripting languages, database development and user interface design. Gerry operates his own Web development firm, GerryLeBlanc.com. Ten years prior experience in the newspaper industry when the Web was called “new media” gives him insight into online marketing, community building and content management. Beyond the digital world, Gerry is a musician, visual artist, outdoors enthusiast, spiritual seeker, loving husband and father of 2. Gerry’s passion for food was cultivated during his years as a buyer on the Boston Fish Pier for a local fish monger and more recently as an inspired “Mediterranean-Vegetarian” embracing the Mediterranean Living lifestyle principles including cooking with fresh local food and celebrating the every day gifts of this life with good friends and family.