Doesn’t the word “gratin” sound just right on a cool fall day? Images of a bubbling, baked casserole with gooey cheese and crispy edges come to mind, making me want to cozy up to the table and dig in.
This recipe is from none other than the Grand Dame herself, the master of all master chefs, Julia Child. It is typical of Julia’s recipes, delivering great flavor with little fuss. There’s nothing frou frou about this gratin and as a result, it certainly won’t win any beauty contests. But if you are looking for a reliable side dish to feed a crowd, this recipe fits the bill. It would even be worthy of a spot on your Thanksgiving table. Comfort food at its best.
I found the recipe for Gratin of Zucchini, Rice & Onions with Cheese this past summer, when I was cooking my way through the aforementioned Food 52 Genius Recipes. The “genius” in this dish is that a rich gratin is the result of zucchini water as opposed to butter and heavy cream. And, parboiled rice is used as a thickener as opposed to an empty filler. The resulting dish is likely to satisfy both adults and kids as no one flavor overpowers the other. Don’t love zucchini? There is the cheesy goodness to distract. Avoiding heavy fats? “Smoke and mirrors” trick your body into thinking this is an indulgence–one you can enjoy almost guilt-free.
Speaking of Thanksgiving (and I do acknowledge that I’ve skipped ahead but with Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday I can’t help but start planning in October!), if you happen to be in the Washington, DC area during the Thanksgiving holiday (or for those of us locals who may have guests in town) consider visiting the Smithsonian American History Museum for a look at Julia Child’s actual Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen. This kitchen was the site of three of the first TV cooking shows and contains so many of the tools that Julia Child used to test recipes for her cookbooks. You can explain to the kids that this was the original Cutthroat Kitchen and that Julia was a genius who made mistakes with a smile. Enjoy!
- 2 to 2 1/2 lbs zucchini or other summer squach
- 1/2 c white rice
- 1 c minced onions
- 5 to 6 Tbls olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, mashed and finely minced
- 2 Tbls all-purpose flour
- About 2 1/2 c warm liquid (zucchini juices plus milk), heated
- About 2/3 c grated Parmesan cheese (save 2 Tbls for later)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cut the stem and tip off each washed zucchini. Shred zucchini using a coarse box crater or the grating disk of a food processor. Place zucchini in a colander set over a bowl. Toss vegetable with 2 tsp of salt and allow to drain, reserving the juices in the bowl, for a minimum of 5 minutes or until you are ready to incorporate the zucchini in the dish. Just before using, squeeze the zucchini dry by the handful (again, reserving the liquid in the bowl) and dry on paper towels.
- Meanwhile, drop the rice into boiling salted water and boil for exactly 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In a large frying pan, cook the onions slowly in 3 to 4 Tbls oil for 8 to 10 minutes, until tender and translucent. Raise the heat slightly and stir for several minutes until very lightly browned.
- Stir in the grated and dried zucchini and garlic.
- Toss and turn for 5 minutes, until the zucchini is almost tender.
- Sprinkle in the flour, stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.
- Gradually stir in the 2 1/2 cups of warm liquid (zucchini juices, plus milk, heated gently in the microwave). Make sure that the flour is well blended and smooth.
- Put the pan over moderately high heat, stir in the blanched rice and all but 2 Tbls of the cheese.
- Taste very carefully for seasoning.
- Turn into a heavily buttered 6- to 8-cup baking or serving dish about 1 1/2-inches deep. Strew the remaining cheese on top and drizzle the remaining 2 Tbls olive oil over the cheese.
- About 30 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 425F.
- Set the baking dish in the upper third of the oven and bake until the tian is bubbling and top has browned nicely. The rice should absorb all the liquid.
- Serve hot or warm.