As promised, I am here to aid you with you midsummer afternoon’s zucchini nightmare, er, bounty. But please, just because I try to help people who weren’t wary enough of friends bearing baskets of zucchini doesn’t mean that I should be mistaken for someone who never lets zucchini expire on her watch. I went away for the weekend and left my last haul to meet a terrible end in my kitchen. Let this gratin be my zucchini repentance.
I started making this zucchini rice gratin a few years ago. At the time, well, rice wasn’t my thing. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it, just that it never, ever occurred to me to make it, which likely related to the fact that I burned it 100% of the time I made it, which led to pot-soaking and -scrubbing and a plague about our apartment known as a Grumpy Dishwasher. It hardly seemed worth it for a bit of rice. I’ve since figured out that nearly every package of rice lists the wrong amount of water (I always need more) and that on the gas stoves I’ve had, even the thinnest wisp of a flame, the lowest I can make it before the burner goes out entirely, will cook my rice in about 2/3 of the suggested time. I share these tips just in case any of you out there also need to go to Rice Remedial School, though you guys seem smart. I bet you’ve got this figured out already, and long before you wrote a cookbook that uses it no less than three times.
I’ve since become — with the coaching of a toddler who will happily ingest it at almost every meal — a person who really, really likes rice and rarely burns it (insert a slow clap here) and this is one of the dishes that brought on the transformation. Rice baked in a casserole dish with roasted vegetables and a bit of onions, herbs and cheese is very good summer thing. The edges get crunchy, the grains absorb all of the vegetables’ released juices, and you get to put something on the table that hits nearly every food group. How is that, you ask? There are eggs in here. It’s really the strangest thing, so strange that I used to skip them, but I urge you not to as it makes the rice almost omelet-y and cohesive and this gratin a total one-pot meal. At the end of the evening, you’ll have bellies full of roasted summer happiness, zucchini about as tasty as it gets outside the cake files, and if you planned better than I did, some crisp white wine.
Another rice gratin: So, I really try to avoid doing this thing where I insert a falsely casual “Hey, did I tell you about my cookbook coming out this fall?” in every post because I am sure long time readers are sick of hearing about it by now. But! Today, I just have to because one of my favorite dishes in the book, one I cannot resist telling you about any longer, I also call a rice gratin, though about the only things these two dishes have in common is the name. It’s hearty and very fall/winter-ish; it would be great on a Thanksgiving table. It involves wild rice, greens, caramelized onions, a nutty cheese and breadcrumbs and it makes a spectacular amount of gratin. When we make it at home, we reheat it for a few nights as a dinner side-dish and everyone inhales it. It’s warm and filling and I hope you will love it too.
Two years ago: Nectarine Brown Butter Buckle and Sweet and Smoky Oven Spareribs
Three years ago: Sour Cherry Slab Pie and Cantaloupe Salsa
Four years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Five years ago: Zucchini Bread and Nectarine and Blackberry Galette
Zucchini Rice Gratin
Adapted from Gourmet, March 2008
My prior quibbles about this dish were that it always stuck to the pan (I try to alleviate this by having you oil your baking dish), was way too salty (and we are hardly salt-phobes, thus I’ve reduced the total amount from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 3/4 teaspoon; feel free to add more if you find it needs it), and that it used too many dishes. You can reduce your dishload by lining your zucchini baking sheet with aluminum foil (tomatoes are reactive with aluminum so I’d leave their tray bare) and hoping that you’ll consider using one skillet for the rice and onions. Despite the fact that I couldn’t reduce the moderate dishload further, we’ve never once felt that this dish wasn’t worth the extra suds.
Serves: 4 to 6 as a side
1/3 cup uncooked white rice, long-grain is suggested but use whatever you prefer
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds zucchini (about 3 medium), sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 pound plum tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Table salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
Preheat oven to 450°F. Cook the rice according to your favorite method. The package directions work in some cases, but check my notes above about adjustments I find I have to make. If you cook the rice in a large, wide-ish covered skillet, it might cook even faster but you’ll have the chance to use it again (and save on dirty dishes) when you need to cook the onions in a bit.
While rice cooks, coat two large (or, if you have the same pitifully small oven as I do, three smaller) baking sheets each with a tablespoon of a of olive oil (a bit less for smaller pans). Spread zucchini and tomato slices on the baking sheets in as close to a single layer as you can. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Roast tomatoes for 10 minutes and zucchini for 20. Flip zucchini halfway through; it’s not worth the messy effort for the tomatoes. Leave oven on.
Heat large, heavy skillet (such as the one you used to cook your rice) over medium heat. Once hot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, heat oil, then add onions, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt to pan. Cover and reduce heat to low, cooking onion until limp and tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Combine onion mixture, rice, eggs, thyme, half of your grated cheese and a half-tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl. Add a good amount of freshly ground black pepper. Use the remaining half-tablespoon of olive oil to coat a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Spread half of rice mixture in bottom of dish. Arrange half of roasted zucchini on top. Spread remaining rice mixture over it and please don’t worry about being neat about this; dinner will be “rustic” tonight! Arrange remaining zucchini on top, then tomato slices. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese and bake until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Each oven varies, but I find mine does the very best browning when the dish is on a rack near the top of the oven.