I don’t usually try something new on my Memorial Day guests. I stick to the old favorites and hope the weather is good enough to cookout. But his year as my stack of “test” recipes grows higher, I decided to insert several new items into my holiday menu.
In advance of the weekend cookout, I tried Ina Garten’s Zucchini Gratin from her 1999 Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. She has basically used a classic French recipe, that calls for potatoes, but substituted squash. It works perfectly! As I write, the aroma of the dish is wafting through my condo.
The foolproof sauce came together easily. I just sprinkled some flour over the skillet of zucchini, onions, and seasonings that had been sauteed in butter. After a few minutes, I stirred in the warm milk. Viola! I had a smooth, creamy sauce. Once in the baking dish, I topped the zucchini with a mixture of Gruyere cheese and bread crumbs and into the oven it went.
At first, I thought I’d made enough zucchini gratin to eat all week or share with my kids. I’m not so sure now. It’s going fast. Next weekend, when I prepare this side dish for Memorial Day, I may add a jolt of hot sauce or red pepper flakes, because I like tang. I had already cut back slightly on the salt, just because I often do that to reduce my sodium intake.
This one’s a keeper. See the recipe below with my notes and don’t miss Ina Garten’s video.
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for topping
1 lb. yellow onions, cut in 1/2 and sliced (3 large) (I used half this amount)
2 lb. zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick (4 zucchini)
2 tsp. kosher salt (I reduced both the salt and pepper)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (Panko or Progresso is easier)
3/4 cup grated Gruyere (Reviewers say Swiss cheese works, too)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a very large (12-inch) saute pan and cook onions over low heat for 20 minutes, or until tender, but not browned. Add zucchini and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes. Stir in flour. Add hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until it makes a sauce. Pour mixture into an 8 by 10-inch baking dish.
Combine the bread crumbs and Gruyere and sprinkle on top of zucchini mixture. Dot with 1 tablespoon of butter cut into small bits and bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned.
Kitchen Notes: I use Panko or Progresso for the breadcrumbs, as did most of the reviewers. Some cooks complained that the finished dish was too mushy. Bear in mind that this is a French gratin. It’s supposed to be soft in texture with melted cheese and a lightly brown crust.
For those preferring an al dente treatment, use bigger zucchini chunks and remove the caramelized onions from the skillet and cook the zucchini without a cover to desired tenderness before re-incorporating the onions.
If you want to try the original French potato gratin, Martha Stewart has a version that’s almost identical to this one, but with potatoes. Butternut squash works, too. It’s a flexible recipe.