In the summer time my mind doesn’t normally think, “Eureka! Let’s make a casserole.” But perhaps it should? The rainbow of produce I picked up at the Copley Square Farmers Market seemed destined for greatness so when I stumbled upon this light and eye appealing recipe I knew I had found a match made in heaven.
My memories of casseroles as a child included the affectionately named “Tuna Pea Wiggle.” This was actually a traditional tuna casserole made with canned tuna, peas, egg noodles, and cream of mushroom soup. All ingredients, that notoriously picky as I was as a kid, should have brought me to an ear shattering meal time tantrum. But there was something about those bright green peas and the laughable recipe title that made it a top choice in my book.
One of my favorite dinnertime dishes growing up that actually held over to my adulthood is a comforting concoction of ground beef, Campbell’s Tomato Soup, green beans, and mashed potatoes. This hearty one pan supper was known as “Green Bean Casserole” not to be confused of course with the funky French Onion topped mess that always seems to find its way onto every table at Thanksgiving. I’ve tried to help this childhood favorite out a bit in recent years adding garlic and sautéed onion to the ground beef, using freshly steamed green beans, and topping it all with garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes. Interestingly enough when I tried to substitute Amy’s Tomato Soup for the Campbells I found that I just didn’t like the taste. This absolutely shocked me since I normally shout the glory of this particular Amy’s soup at the top of my lungs. It just goes to show that some things simply shouldn’t be meddled with.
In the end the Summer Vegetable Gratin recipe came out beautifully. It’s a bit time consuming, what with all of the salting and draining and paper towel patting of the vegetables, but the result is a dreamy dish of flavorful zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, and onions that’s simply addictive. The first evening we ate the dish as our entree and the next day I cooked some nutty brown rice and served the leftovers over the top. Every last bite of this technicolor casserole was happily consumed and I’m thoroughly looking forward to my next Farmers Market trip so I can make it again.
Summer Vegetable Gratin
Originally published in the July 2008 edition of Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 6-8 as a side or 4 as a light main dish
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 pound summer squash (yellow), ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin pole to pole (about 3 cups)
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters (Erin’s Note: I used 1 cup of Panko Bread Crumbs)
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 medium shallots, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush 13- by 9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil; set aside.
Toss zucchini and summer squash slices with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl; transfer to colander set over bowl. Let stand until zucchini and squash release at least 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 45 minutes. Arrange slices on triple layer paper towels; cover with another triple layer paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.
Place tomato slices in single layer on double layer paper towels and sprinkle evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Place second double layer paper towels on top of tomatoes and press firmly to dry tomatoes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and dark golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set onions aside.
Combine garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and thyme in small bowl. In large bowl, toss zucchini and summer squash in half of oil mixture, then arrange in greased baking dish. Arrange caramelized onions in even layer over squash. Slightly overlap tomato slices in single layer on top of onions. Spoon remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over tomatoes. Bake until vegetables are tender and tomatoes are starting to brown on edges, 40 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, process bread in food processor until finely ground, about 10 seconds. (You should have about 1 cup crumbs). Combine bread crumbs, remaining tablespoon oil, Parmesan, and shallots in medium bowl. Remove baking dish from oven and increase heat to 450 degrees. Sprinkle bread-crumb mixture evenly on top of tomatoes. Bake gratin until bubbling and cheese is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and let sit at room temperature 10 minutes before serving.