French in a Flash: Lightened Up Zucchini Gratin


[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

If there's one thing I love about French home cookin', it's a gratin. But gratins are pretty hard to justify, especially with the onset of summer. Gratins and beaches mix about as well as oil and water.

So I've recently gone on this "gratin-lite" kick: baked dishes that have the same kind of bubbling creaminess and comforting crusty top as my favorite, say, potato Dauphinoise, but just a bit lighter. This particular zucchini version is inspired by a zucchini crumble I had about two summers ago in Avignon at a restaurant called Le Moutardier, named so because it was built on the site of the old mustard maker back when the pope lived in Avignon. There's not a lot of mustard there now, but there is a breathtaking zucchini crumble on the menu, made with mint and cheese, that inspired this summer gratin.

It starts with lots of zucchini, tossed in a warm sauce of shallots and garlic, white wine, and a little crème fraîche. Toss it rustically into a baking dish with tons of fresh herbs: mint, thyme, and parsley. Top it all off with a half crumble, half gratin mix of breadcrumbs, Gruyère, Parmigiano Reggiano, and a little bit of butter. Bake it until the lightly creamy wine sauce is bubbling up around the edges, the zucchini is tender, but substantial, and the topping is crispy and well tanned. I serve it with some boiled baby potatoes tossed with a little olive oil, herbs, and sea salt.

It has that comforting hot sauciness and crispy cheesiness of a standard gratin, but I've swapped potatoes for zucchini and heavy cream for white wine. Magnifique.

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Lightened Up Zucchini Gratin »