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summer vegetable gratin

October 6, 2010

I know, I know, it’s officially not summer anymore. The constant cold, halfhearted drizzle of the past, oh, forever has made that abundantly clear. However! That does not mean I’m ready to surrender my cooking to root vegetables and stuffing just yet.

Instead, we made this gratin this weekend. And it was good. While I like zucchini and summer squash on their own, they’re usually not anything that I get excited about. But the thyme-garlic oil and the caramelized onions in this bumped up their flavor and made them absolutely delicious. And the oven-roasting process turned the “ugly ripe” (Stop and Shop-speak for heirloom) tomatoes into little concentrated pockets of tomatoey awesomeness. And the bread crumbs and Parmesan didn’t hurt, either.

Plus, while this dish ends up looking pretty fancy and restaurant-like, it’s actually pretty easy to put together, once you get past the slicing-and-drying stage. Unlike most Cook’s Illustrated recipes, this one doesn’t involve any parcooking (uhhh, except for the onions, but Chris basically stuck the onions in the pan and then walked away for 20 minutes, so that doesn’t count) or rotating or anything, so once you stick it in the oven, you’re basically free to do whatever you want for the rest of your dinner prep. As long as it involves the stove or 400 degrees.

All in all, another excellent way to get my veggies, even if they’re only marginally seasonal.

Summer Vegetable Gratin
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
1 lb. summer squash (yellow), ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 lb. ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin pole to pole (about 3 cups)
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters [I used one half of a whole-wheat burger bun]
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 medium shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position [I think we might’ve used the middle…?] and heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush 13-by-9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil; set aside.
2. Toss zucchini and summer squash slices with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl; transfer to colander set over bowl [I just set it in the sink because I didn’t really foresee any future use for squash-juice]. Let stand until zucchini and squash release at least 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 45 minutes. Arrange slices on triple layer paper towels; cover with another triple layer paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.
3. Place tomato slices in single layer on double layer paper towels and sprinkle evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Place second double layer paper towels on top of tomatoes and press firmly to dry tomatoes.
4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and dark golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set onions aside.
5. Combine garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and thyme in small bowl. In large bowl [or right in the baking pan], toss zucchini and summer squash in half of oil mixture, then arrange in greased baking dish. Arrange caramelized onions in even layer over squash. Slightly overlap tomato slices in single layer on top of onions. Spoon remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over tomatoes. Bake until vegetables are tender and tomatoes are starting to brown on edges, 40 to 45 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, process bread in food processor until finely ground, about 10 seconds. (You should have about 1 cup crumbs.) Combine bread crumbs, remaining tablespoon oil, Parmesan, and shallots in medium bowl. Remove baking dish from oven and increase heat to 450 degrees. Sprinkle bread-crumb mixture evenly on top of tomatoes. Bake gratin until bubbling and cheese is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and let sit at room temperature 10 minutes before serving.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated

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