summer squash gratin

So I’m on this summer squash kick, because my friends Ken and MA gave me some that came from Ken’s great-grandmother’s farm in southeast Georgia. They also gave me some Vidalia onions, and I’m not one to turn those down. I love it when Vidalia onions are in season – I use them in everything. In trying to figure out what to do with all this vedge, I made the zucchini bread in the previous post, then turned to The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. I usually consult that book before attacking any vedge I haven’t made in a while. I came across her squash gratin recipe, and decided to adapt the non-dairy version – mainly because I didn’t have any dairy in the house that day, but also I didn’t want the end result to be too heavy on the stomach.

I have a lemon thyme plant in the yard which has just exploded, and I’m trying to use it in everything. If you’ve never heard of lemon thyme, it’s just a variety of regular thyme that’s been crossed with lemon – it’s pretty wonderful and works great in a lot of fish and chicken recipes. I think it goes well with squash because it brightens the dish up a bit. But if you don’t have lemon thyme (I’ve never found sprigs of it for sale at the grocery store), regular thyme will do, and if you want, you can just squeeze a bit of lemon over the dish before it goes into the oven. But you don’t have to, of course. Use any variety of fresh herbs you have too – I happen to have gobs of parsley and basil right now, so those went into this dish too.

I think the key to squash is to definitely add flavorings – squash likes salt, for example, so season each layer of this dish with a pinch of Kosher salt spread all over. I also add a touch of cayenne because I like the addition of a bit of heat – this actually won’t be too spicy, but you could omit the cayenne if you prefer. But again, I think the squash likes it, and won’t kick it out of bed.

I would let your gratin brown a bit more than I let mine, as seen in these pictures. I should have let this one sit in the oven for a little while longer, maybe 10 minutes, but I was in between conference calls and it was way past normal lunch time. You’re going to want to wait a bit after hauling this out of the oven before you can dig in, since it’ll just be far too hot to eat. Also, it accumulated some watery juices, so I poured some of that off. But all in all, this is a nice pleasant dish, yet another thing to do with the abundance of squash and zucchini this time of year. Prior to baking, you could top with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese, which would definitely aid in the browning, however if you want to keep this vegetarian (vegan, really), omit any dairy and you really aren’t missing anything.

Alice Waters’ non-dairy summer squash gratin adapted a bit
Serves 4, although I ate this for three consecutive meals (3 servings) as my meal and I was happy as a clam. Or a pig, for that matter.

. 6 summer squash (a variety if you’d like, or keep it all one color), ends trimmed and sliced into nearly see through rounds on a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin, try very hard to get the thinnest slices possible with a knife, or even try a vegetable peeler.
. ½ of one of those big Vidalia onions (or 1 small onion), sliced into thin half moons
. 2 cloves garlic, minced or run through a microplane grater
. ¼ cup basil leaves, chiffonade
. ¼ cup lemon thyme, or regular thyme if you don’t have any, leaves removed from stems, chopped
. ¼ cup parsley, chopped
. Cayenne pepper
. Salt, pepper
. Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and add a bit of olive oil (maybe a teaspoon or two). Add the onion slices, a couple of pinches of salt and pepper, and one pinch of cayenne. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft. Let cook a bit longer until caramelized and brown. Add the garlic, half the basil, half the parsley, half the lemon thyme (or regular thyme). Stir it all together and turn off the heat.

3. Put onions in the bottom of a gratin dish (you don’t have to grease the dish). Layer on the squash slices and season with salt, a touch more herbs and maybe a wee small pinch of cayenne pepper in between each layer. When you’re done stacking, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top (teaspoon’s worth).

4. Cover with a parchment piece, and place in the oven. Cook until the squash is translucent, 20 to 30 minutes. Take off the parchment, press down on squash with a spatula, and bake until lightly browned on top, another 20 to 30 minutes.


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