We can thank the French for the golden brown, crispy and savory casserole known as “gratin.” This comforting dish, often featuring potatoes, is assembled in a heavy, shallow pan, topped with combinations of butter, cheese and/or breadcrumbs and then baked or broiled until perfectly crusty brown, creamy and crispy.
Classic and humble, the gratin accommodates itself to an abundance of garden fresh ingredients and a wide variety of cooking styles. I’ve enjoyed gratins with eggplant and tomatoes, pasta and fish, and zucchini and goat cheese. Whether a main course, side dish, or a dessert, gratins are both deliciously satisfying and appealing to all ages.
The recipe for Summer Veggie and Potato Gratin allows for plenty of creativity by the home cook. Basically, layers of sliced vegetables and potatoes are seasoned with salt and pepper, dotted with butter, and topped with grated cheese and fresh herbs. A good douse of heavy cream is the base that simmers the vegetables until tender, while butter and cheese cook into the golden, crispy covering.
Take care to slice your vegetables in evenly sized pieces so that they all cook completely in the same amount of time. Crispy veggies, like leeks and fennel, should be slightly cooked (by steaming or in the microwave) before layering in the casserole. Bright red, ripe tomato slices, chopped fresh peppers, or golden corn are good additions. Fresh herbs like basil, parsley, rosemary and thyme are classic seasonings. Tarragon, dill and cilantro introduce a different taste dimension.
Summer Veggie & Potato Gratin is sinfully rich and filling enough for a vegetarian meal. I used Parmesan cheese for the topping; grated cheddar, smoked Gouda, or fontina cheeses all add a different taste dimension. This casserole transports easily to a potluck meal, is a tasty side at late summer cookouts, and most welcome packed in a jar in the lunchbox.
SUMMER VEGGIE & POTATO GRATIN
- 1 fennel bulb top removed and chopped
- 1 medium summer squash sliced into rings
- 1 pound new potatoes scrubbed and thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Sea salt and fresh pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, basil)
- 3 tablespoons grated cheese
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Remove the feathery tops from the fennel bulb, and chop the bulb into pieces. Steam or microwave the chopped fennel until tender.
- Scrub and slice the potatoes.
- Slice the summer squash into rings. Chop the fresh herbs.
- Butter a heavy, gratin or cast iron pan well and layer the cooked fennel in the bottom of the pan.
- Layer the sliced summer squash on top of the fennel. Season the squash with salt and pepper.
- Layer the potato slices over the summer veggies. Season the potato layer with salt and pepper and dot with butter.
- When the casserole is complete, dot the top with the remaining butter. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs and grated cheese. Pour the cream over the top.
- Bake until the potatoes are fork tender and the top is golden, about 30 – 40 minutes.