end of summer squash gratin
Welp, here we are, at mid-morning on the first day of Moving Weekend. And we are Ready (!!!) with a capital “R.”
We’ve got boxes, we’ve got tape, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, we’ve got handwritten lists that have been painstakingly categorized by degree of importance and logistical difficulty. We even visited the new place last night and marked out with painters tape where our furniture will go. (I’d say, we’ve learned a thing or two after doing this whole small-apartment, city-living bit for 4 years.) We’ve got everything we could possibly need! Everything, that is, besides the motivation to do one single blessed thing related to moving. And can you believe it?? I’m usually so on the ball about these things!! Ha, haaa, HA.
So yes, I am procrastinating like the champion procrastinator that my mama raised me to be and I’m doing it with gusto. (What’s that, ma? Not your actual intention? Damn, my bad.) And I would even feel a little guilty for it too, if the universe hadn’t rewarded me so sweetly for my thinly-veiled foot dragging. You see, what actually started last night as me seeing how much I could get away with bastardizing a perfectly good Summer Squash Gratin recipe in an effort to use up as much all-but-forgotten produce as I could before we schlepped our foodstuffs to the new apartment, ended up as a glorious triumph of a dish.
With the move looming overhead and my hangover from Thursday night’s birthday celebrations reminding me (rudely) that I am not, in fact, still in my twenties, I was too distracted to give much thought to my departure from the original recipe. Sure, I snapped a few photos, because that’s my thing. But my main concern was with getting dinner into a pan and into the oven, then out of the oven and into my belly. So I didn’t take the time to talk myself into “just dealing” with the more fiddly aspects of the original directions, nor did I even contemplate, as I normally would, using the original amount of olive oil suggested despite my extreme distaste for the oiliness that is characteristic of a striking number of gratins AND the fact that I just knew an entire cup of olive oil was too much (raise your hand if soggy, oily squash casseroles make you want to cry real tears). I just rolled with it, relied on the fact that I have cooked some food before, and what do ya know it turned out swimmingly - streamlined directions, dirtying of far fewer dishes, and less than half the oil used. A perfectly light and satisfying combination of all of summer's favorite vegetables, and the ideal bed for a runny yolk egg because you know that’s how I do.
And while I could go on at least a little more about this bronzed beauty of a gratin, I’m going to leave it there and head off to confront the beast that awaits, armed with my lists, garbage bags in tow. I think this last little bit of procrastination has given me enough strength to actually move something. With any luck, the next time I check in will be from our new place. Which is really cute and way bigger - like double the square footage of our current place. And there’s a bay window in the living room! Did I tell you about the bay window? Or about the old-timey drop down ironing board in the kitchen??
Ok, you guys, I’ve really got to go now.
You hang up first. No you...
For real this time, though. TOODLES NOODLES!!!
End of Summer Squash Gratin, adapted liberally and streamlined from the New York Times
Serves 6 as a meal (+an egg), 12 as a side
2 1/2 lbs zucchini (or any summer squash), sliced 1/4-inch thick on the diagonal
1 lb plum or other ripe tomatoes
2 medium onions, thinly sliced into half moons
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small baguette, or about a cup of panko breadcrumbs
1 cup lightly packed grated Parmesan
kosher salt and black pepper
Toss the sliced zucchini in a colander, toss with a healthy sprinkle of salt, and set aside to drain while you prepare the other ingredients, at least 20 minutes.
Slice and core the tomatoes, so that they are 1/4-inch thick and no longer contain their seedy, gooey insides. Lay them on paper towels and leave to drain for 10 minutes.
[Lots of patting dry the vegetables on this one - the key to a non-soggy gratin is to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Plus I found that while waiting for the zucchini and tomatoes to drain is the perfect amount of time to chop the onions and garlic, and grate the parmesan for the breadcrumbs if you need to do that.]
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Heat up a large (at least 12-inch) skillet or medium-low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Cook the tomatoes in batches, very slowly, turning once or twice until liquid has bubbled away and flesh is cooked through but not falling apart, about 8 minutes. Remove the cooked tomatoes to a plate and continue with the next batch. Add a little more olive oil to the pan for later batches if necessary.
Once all of the tomatoes have been cooked, turn the heat up to medium, drizzle in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil (depending on how dry your pan is) and add the onions. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and thyme, and season with a little more salt and pepper. As the onions sweat, stir them around and scrape the bottom of the pan to pick up any brown bits the tomatoes left behind. Layers of flavor, yum! Cook the onions until they are translucent and have picked up some color, about 12 minutes. Then turn the heat off, but leave the pan on the burner, add the garlic and stir well.
Return to the zucchini, which by now should be glistening with water pooling underneath them. Remove the zucchini from the colander and pat them dry with paper towels. Season them with salt and pepper while still laying on the paper towels (unless you’re just jonesing to dirty up another dish, in which case you can toss them in a bowl). Arrange the zucchini in the pan overlapping in concentric circles, so that they look like fallen dominoes (see photo above). Brush generously with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Transfer to oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the breadcrumbs. If making your own breadcrumbs, rip or chop the baguette into square-inch cubes and toss them into the food processor. Pulse until the baguette has turned to breadcrumbs with some larger, pea-sized pieces. Add the final tablespoon of olive oil and parmesan, along with a sprinkle of salt and black or red pepper if you like, and pulse again until just combined. If you’re using already prepared breadcrumbs, mix them together in a bowl with the parmesan, olive oil, and seasonings.
After the gratin has par-baked, remove it from the oven and layer on the tomatoes, then the breadcrumbs. Raise the heat to 450 or fire up the broiler. Transfer the gratin back to the oven/broiler and cook until the breadcrumb topping is a deep golden brown. If your name is Meghan, get distracted by a Tonight Show re-run and burn the topping ever so slightly. :)
Remove the gratin from the oven at let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving - it will be very steamy inside. Serve warm or at room temperature. Put an egg on it if you dare!