Recipes: Grateful for Gratins
Every time I’ve pored over cookbooks this summer, looking for ways to use the bounty carted home from my farm share and the farmers’ markets, I have found myself choosing some version of a gratin. According to Julia Child and Jacques Pepin (who should know) the term “gratin” refers to a delectable top crust, usually of browned cheese or bread crumbs—which leaves a whole lot of leeway for what hides underneath. Thus far, I’ve made an eggplant, zucchini and tomato version that recalls the flavors of ratatouille, a creamy potato, tomato and olive showstopper, and an unusual and delicious concoction of chickpeas, greens, saffron and hardboiled eggs.
This recipe was inspired by a surplus of summer squash (if there’s any cook or gardener in the region who doesn’t have too much squash right now, I’d like to know your secret!) and a friend puzzled about what to feed a vegetarian for supper. The result is much like a traditional corn pudding, but incorporates Provençal technique (the grating, salting and draining of the squash.) While perfectly suited to accompany grilled steak, chicken or fish, this is substantial enough to serve as a main course for a light (or vegetarian) supper. To serve it as an entree, you might top it with a spoonful of pesto, a fresh tomato sauce, or a simple salad of chopped tomatoes dressed with highest quality olive oil, a little champagne vinegar, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper.
Summer Squash and Rice Gratin
6 cups summer squash, grated (zucchini, yellow, pattypan—whatever you have on hand; easiest to grate it in the food processor or julienne it on a mandoline; if neither of those options are available, get out a good sharp knife and cut into 1/4 inch dice)
3 T olive oil
3/4 c chopped onion (1 medium)
1 clove garlic, minced
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup ricotta
1 cup heavy cream or 3/4 cup half and half
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
2 cups cooked long grain white rice (I like jasmine or basmati)
Put the grated squash, 2 cups at a time, into a colander set over the kitchen sink or a large bowl. After each addition of squash, sprinkle on a generous pinch of kosher salt. Leave to drain for 20 minutes or so while you ready the rest of the dish.
Combine the eggs, ricotta, cream and 1/2 cup of the grated parmesan, reserving the remaining 1/4 cup to sprinkle atop the dish.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat for 30 seconds or so, then add the olive oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, around five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
Squeeze the liquid from the squash by grabbing handfuls and squeezing, and then pressing the whole mass against the bottom of the colander. The goal is to get as much liquid out as you can, without making yourself crazy.
Add the squeezed squash to the skillet and return to medium heat, stirring frequently. It’s ok if the squash browns a tiny bit, but the goal is to cook it until tender and remove some of the remaining moisture. You should saute the squash/onion/garlic mixture for a total of about ten minutes.
Remove the mixture from the skillet to a large bowl and stir a bit to cool it down. Taste for salt and pepper and season as necessary. Stir the rice into the squash mixture, making sure there are no lumps in the rice. Add the egg mixture, and stir gently to combine.
Pour into a buttered gratin dish and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Turn the oven down to 375 F. Bake for 45 minutes or until firm, and nicely browned on top.
Serves 8-10 as a side dish, 6 as a main course —Paige Orloff