Glorious Gratins

4 Oct

Anytime you see something exiting the oven with a crispy golden crust you can’t help but smile. Your brain knows that the bubbling, steaming goodness is finally finished baking to perfection and is that much closer to arriving on your plate. Did you know that these bubbly, crispy wonders have a name? Well they do, they are called gratins.

You have probably made one or two of these in the past without even knowing that you had made it. Here are a few examples of popular gratins:

1. Scalloped Potatoes
2. Baked Macaroni and Cheese
3. Any casserole that is topped with breadcrumbs or cheese and baked, like potato casserole or broccoli casserole

See, things that you have been making forever and calling casseroles could actually be much fancier than you originally thought. Plus, if your dish does fall into this category, you could switch the name to gratin and all your friends will think you are trés chic and very gourmet.

I personally use the term gratin to define a more specific casserole. I think that gratins should have items that are layered. It doesn’t really matter if they are sliced, or diced, or chopped, as long as they are assembled in layers. My zucchini gratin for example is thinly sliced zucchini layered with roasted red peppers, ricotta cheese and parmesan.

IMG_0853Zucchini Gratin

1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 large roasted red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of butter

Rub the butter on the inside of a small crock or ramekin. Layer the zucchini, pepper, and cheeses in 3 layers or until the vessel is filled. Top with parmesan and optional breadcrumbs if you want. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes until cheese on top is brown and bubbling. Serve hot.

As I said before gratins can come in all shapes and sizes. I love making potato gratins as a nice change to mashed potatoes and plain old pastas. The key to making a perfect potato gratin is to make sure that potatoes are cut to the same size so they cook evenly, and making sure the gratin is seasoned well. I always heir on the side of over seasoning when it comes to gratin cooking, simple because it’s very difficult evenly season after the gratin is cooked. Remember that the potatoes will absorb the seasoned liquid while the gratin is baking and that is where the flavor is coming from.

Another key to perfect gratins is the correct amount of liquid. When doing a potato gratin, use enough liquid to just cover the top layer of potatoes. If you use more, you will wind up with soup, use less and your potatoes won’t cook.When it comes to other vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, or parsnips, you have to use your own judgement. Zucchini has a lot of water in it, so it’s not necessary to use a lot of liquid. The vegetable with contribute most of the necessary cooking liquid. For eggplant, you want to use some extra liquid. Eggplant is like a sponge and will absorb like potatoes, but unlike potatoes, they do not have and starch to help thicken the liquid. Use just enough liquid to flavor, without creating soup. Parsnips are similar to potatoes. They are root vegetables that taste like spicy carrots. They work well with a creamy base with gruyere or an aged goat cheese like Midnight Moon.

Give gratins a chance. If you’re tired of the same old side dish or just want to make your contribution to the pot luck seem fancy a gratin can come to the rescue without much work.

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

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