Tuesday, October 12, 2010
A visit to a country farm stand and a recipe for a colorful French gratin
This is a typical country farm stand that can be found in the mountains of western North Carolina and north Georgia.
They sell all sorts of things in the fall including bright orange pumpkins, colorful fall mums in a variety of different colors, Indian corn to hang on your door, lots of different kinds of winter squashes and apples, roasted peanuts, and hand crafted bird houses.
Look at all of these pretty turban squashes. Their golden yellow flesh tastes as if it’s been flavored with hazelnuts.
Turban squash makes a lovely soup bowl if you slice its top off, hollow it out, and fill it with your favorite fall soup. I’m thinking for Thanksgiving that it would be perfect filled with my creamy rich Clam Zucchini Chowder.
Most country farm stands sell roasted peanuts. Here they roast their own and the smell fills the air as you drive up.
How about a hand crafted birdhouse?
While we were there, I picked up some zucchini and tomatoes to make a French gratin. This is one of our favorite side dishes of all times. It seems to pair with almost any kind of meat or chicken dish, it’s gorgeous to look at, and a snap to make. It is equally good served hot as well as room temperature, making it ideal for a buffet.
I normally use a heavy French gratin dish, such as the Le Creuset oval au gratin baker, for this dish. Today I decided to give it a little star power and make it in a tart pan with a removable bottom. If you decide to make it in a tart pan, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, after you fill the tart pan with the squash and tomatoes, put it on a sheet pan to bake it, because it has a tendency to leak. Secondly, it helps to take the vegetables up in rows with a long, slender blade spatula for serving. If you wish to take up the entire tart and place it on a plate, use two pancake turners to lift the gratin and remove the bottom of the tart pan very carefully.
The cheese is optional, but highly recommended. The original recipe called for freshly grated imported Parmesan, which is what I used here. We’ve also used Gruyere cheese and it makes a fantastic, rich topping. Don’t be tempted to use dried thyme. The fresh thyme just makes it and its fresh flavor really sings.
French Zucchini & Tomato Gratin
Gratin de Courgettes et Tomates
Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells
1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved
1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium), ends trimmed, thinly sliced
8 small red Roma tomatoes (about 2 pounds), cored & thinly sliced
Kosher or sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated imported Gruyere or Parmesan cheese (optional but delicious)
Note: Try to find zucchini & tomatoes that are about the same size to be able to alternate in the dish.
Preheat the oven to 450. Rub the bottom of a large oval porcelain gratin dish or tart pan with garlic. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer over the bottom of the pan, alternating the slices of zucchini and tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then the fresh thyme and olive oil.
Bake, uncovered, until meltingly soft, about 20 minutes. (If using a tart pan with a removable bottom, place the tart pan on a sheet pan before baking to catch spills.) After 20 minutes, top with cheese if using and place under the broiler to melt. Serve immediately. Serves 4.