Wednesday, August 25, 2010

summer fest: tomato zucchini gratin

There is something enchanting about a hot tomato.

The way it puckers slightly, but holds onto its essential shape, and you just know it’s full of hot, sweet juice, ready to make you believe that maybe, just maybe, summer could last all year long.

Look at these globes of summer.

Yes, they are perfect eaten neat – I mean twisted off, dusted on your shirt and popped in your mouth – but they’re somehow even more perfect bubbling away in a gratin.

I first encountered a tomato and zucchini gratin when I was visiting relatives in Hamburg, Germany. At the time, I didn’t eat red meat. This was – and is – a hard concept for most Germans to understand, and I think my mother’s cousin Christina searched high and low for what to cook for me.

This was my favourite. She tossed ripe tomatoes and zucchini with a creamy sauce and covered it with cheese, baked it in the oven . . .

This was my first introduction to the gratin: a dish of vegetables with herbs and cream and cheese that bakes and bubbles into a vegetable dance party. 

Christina served the gratin over rice that had been tossed with peas. (I don’t know if this is a particularly German thing to do or just a tradition in my mother’s family, but I would recommend it for all kinds of dishes. The peas give the rice a bit of pop. And who can resist a bit of pop in their food?)

Today, I wasn’t sure exactly what Christina put in her sauce, so I let my herb garden inspire me. Who knew that summer savory is a good friend of the tomato and the zucchini? Now I do.

I also used shallots and butter (hard to go wrong) and topped it with a scattering of breadcrumbs and a decidedly generous toss of cheese. You can play with herbs and cheese – as long as you toss the tomatoes and zucchini with something creamy and flavourful and top it with lots of cheese, I think you’ll be pretty happy.

This gratin is very juicy when it comes out of the oven, all the better for seeping into the rice. However, if you like a thicker sauce, mix 1 or 2 tsp. of cornstarch with 1 tbsp. cold water. Stir that into your almost boiling cream.

A note to my vegetable sponsors:
Thank you to my dad and my friends Robert and Janet in Courtenay for providing the home-grown tomatoes and yellow zucchini. Without you, this dish wouldn’t have been possible.

This post is part of Summer Fest 2010, which is a community food blogging event to write about (and eat!) seasonal produce. Today's Summer Fest theme is the lovely tomato.

My recipe for tomato zucchini gratin is below. If you'd like to see other food bloggers' delicious ideas about tomatoes, check out:

A Way to Garden: More than one way to ripen a tomato
Pinch My Salt: What to do with slow-roasted tomatoes 
Gilded Fork: All kinds of tomato recipes
The Sister Project: Harvest home
Food2: What's the deal with heirlooms?
The FN Dish: Tyler's ultimate tomato salads
Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: Gluten-Free Tomato Tart
Just a Taste: Tomato Jam
From the Ground Up: Roasted Green Salsa
Divina Cucina: Tomatoes, the Italian way
Tigress in a Pickle: Over 50 ways to preserve tomatoes in jars
San Diego Foodstuff: Chunky Gazpacho
Simmer Till Done: Cherry Tomato and Maytag Blue Beignets
Healthy Eats: Top 10 things to do with tomatoes
Food Network UK: The seven deadly tomato sins
White on Rice Couple: Sun dried tomatoes in the sun
The Cooking Channel: Easy Tomato Galette
The Wright Recipes: Savory Tomato Crumble

If you'd like to join the festival, leave your comment or recipe about tomatoes on my blog and the others' blogs. The idea is to get everyone talking about what's ripe right now and how we can eat it.

tomato zucchini gratin
A note for the gluten-free among us:
I have not yet encountered a good pre-made gluten-free breadcrumb. I would recommend pulsing a piece of gluten-free bread in a food processor to make your own.

serves 4

2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp. butter
1 c. whipping cream
1 – 2 tsp. fresh summer savory, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 – 4 c. zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) quarters
3 – 4 c. tomato, cut into wedges
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
1 c. German Butter cheese, grated
1 c. Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 10-cup casserole dish.

Sauté shallots in butter over low heat until the shallots start to become translucent, but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the cream, summer savory, salt and pepper. Bring to almost boiling. Remove from heat just before boiling, so you don’t burn the cream. (If you want to add cornstarch, now is the time.)

Toss the zucchini with one third of the cream. Pour into the prepared casserole dish. Cover with tomatoes. Spoon cream over top. Scatter breadcrumbs over. Sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake uncovered for 30 – 35 minutes. If your cheese is not browning at the end, turn the oven up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 3 or 4 more minutes.

Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes.

Serve over rice that has been tossed with peas.

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