I always find it amazing when I talk to people about cooking and find out that they’ve never cooked up a fresh vegetable in their life. I’ve run across more people than I can count who only rely on frozen veggies or canned. I’ve found that, with most of these people, it’s not a dislike of vegetables holding them back, it’s that they are intimidated by the work involved in cooking up something fresh.
Canned and frozen vegetables do have their place in this world. Well, except for canned peas. Those, I don’t get…at all…and you’ll never be able to sway me. But when it comes right down to it, there’s just no substitute for fresh, in season produce. Absolutely none. Lucky for us, there’s no better time than summer to brave a local farmer’s market or (insert dramatic music here) the produce department of your grocery store.
Repeat after me: “Fresh vegetables aren’t scary. I can do this.”
If you’re a fresh vegetable novice, this is a great recipe to start with. It showcases beautiful summer zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes, and fresh thyme. If you can use a knife properly, you can do this. If you’re prone to burning things, no worries. This dish cooks to death in the oven, for almost an hour, so it’s not something you have to check on all the time. Go ahead, give it a try!
“Gratin” is a French word that roughly translates to, “a shallow dish filled with something yummy and then it’s topped with cheese or breadcrumbs, and baked, until it’s nice and toasty”. The base of this gratin is caramelized onions. You’ll thinly slice up some onions and cook them, for about 20 minutes on the stove, in a bit of olive oil until they are beautifully browned. Once they are cooked up, they go into the bottom of a shallow baking dish.
As the onions sizzle away on the stove, take that time to slice up your other veggies. I sliced the zucchini and summer squash on the diagonal, so the slices were a little larger than if I’d just sliced straight down.
After they were all sliced up, I tossed the zucchini and squash with some olive oil, salt, and fresh thyme leaves in a small bowl.
I sprinkled a little more of the thyme over the onion base and then got to layering my veggies on top. I made alternating rows of each until the pan was filled, and after I’d placed each row down, I sprinkled it with a little parmesan cheese.
Once the dish was all filled up, I topped the veggies with a little more olive oil, mixed the remaining cheese with the last bit of thyme, and sprinkled all of this cheese over the top of the dish. This is going to help give you that delicious, toasty gratin crust on top.
After almost an hour in the oven, I had a beautiful, perfectly unintimidating, cheesy, crusty, veggie dish to serve to my family. The gratin paired perfectly with the grilled chicken I had that night for dinner. It looks so pretty, but when it comes down to it, is pretty simple! Don’t let those big, bad veggies scare you! Promise me that, at least this once, you’ll ditch the cans and bring the fresh stuff into your kitchen. You’ll be glad you did.
ZUCCHINI AND SUMMER SQUASH GRATIN WITH PARMESAN AND FRESH THYME
Adapted from Cooking New American
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 medium sweet onions, thinly sliced
- salt and pepper
- 1¼ lbs. small, ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into ¼ inch slices ( I used Roma tomatoes.)
- ¾ lb. (about 2 small) zucchini cut into ¼ inch slices on the bias
- ¾ lb. (about 2 small) yellow summer squash, cut into ¼ inch slices on the bias
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 1¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until limp and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Spread the onions evenly in the bottom of an oiled 2 quart shallow baking dish (preferably round). Let cool.
- Heat the oven to 375*. Put the tomato slices on a shallow plate to drain for a few minutes and then discard the collected juices. In a medium bowl, toss the zucchini and squash with 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the thyme, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Reserve half of the cheese for the top of the gratin.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the thyme over the onions in the dish. Starting at one end of the baking dish, lay a row of slightly overlapping tomato slices across the width of the dish and sprinkle with a little of the cheese. Next, lay a row of zucchini, overlapping the tomatoes by two-thirds, and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat with a row of squash, and then repeat rows, sprinkling with cheese, until the dish is full.
- Season lightly with pepper and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Drizzle the remaining 1½ tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables. Combine the reserved cheese with the remaining 1 tablespoon of thyme and sprinkle this over the whole gratin. Cook until well browned all over and the juices have bubbled for a while and reduced considerably, about 50-60 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6-8 as a side dish.