Gourmet Wishes with Gratin Dreams

Gourmet magazine might have been my first introduction to the idea that cooking could be both fun and fantastical. Flipping through the pages of every issue, starting with its enticing cover and traveling to the well—that glorious, uninterrupted stretch of feature articles near the back of the issue—filled with zoomed-in produce and attractive people cooking in a lakehouse (or some variation on that theme), took me to another realm.

I had recently moved into my first studio apartment sans roommates. This relatively roomy pad seemed like a dream at the time. Yes, it was a basement apartment and once winter hit I would learn that there was no heat; an ever-present chilly draft seemed to float from the floor straight to my bones. But at the time spring was in the air, and I was feeling optimistic enough to not only read Gourmet as I ate dinner, but to actually cook my dinner from the Gourmet I was reading. Scandalous.

This Zucchini Rice Gratin was and still is one of my favorite things to make. Part of that is due to the fact that taking a bite of the cheesy, roasted vegetables takes me back to that summer of independence. With a fresh, green salad or a knob of crusty bread, this is a perfectly satisfying little dinner. I’ve also substituted other vegetables, like eggplant or butternut squash, for more of a rib-sticking variation. Perfect for the frigid, heatless winter that was headed my way.

Zucchini Rice Gratin
(courtesy of Gourmet, March 2008)

1/3 cup long-grain white rice
1 1/2 lb zucchini (about 3 medium), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
6 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 lb plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

1.) Preheat oven to 450°F and cook rice according to package instructions.

2.) While rice cooks, toss zucchini with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a shallow baking pan. Toss tomatoes with 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in another baking pan.

3.) Roast zucchini in upper third of oven and tomatoes in lower third, turning vegetables once halfway through roasting, until tender and light golden, about 10 minutes for tomatoes; 20 minutes for zucchini. Leave oven on.

4.) Meanwhile, cook onion and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

5.) Stir together onion mixture, cooked rice, eggs, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread half of rice mixture in a shallow 2-quart baking dish, then top with half of zucchini. Spread remaining rice mixture over zucchini, then top with remaining zucchini. Top with tomatoes and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

6.) Bake in upper third of oven until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

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