Saturday, August 16, 2014

Summer Vegetable Gratin and Fingerling Potatoes

With the summer vegetable harvest in full swing, today I'm making simple yet impressive dishes full of the flavors of late summer. 

Julian's Summer Vegetable Gratin
The first, a gratin of mixed summer produce including zucchini, yellow squash, onions and tomatoes looks great because of the presentation. Yet it's quick and easy to make with a good mandoline or food processor. The flavor comes all on its own from those delicious vegetables and when combined as shown here, nicely compliment one another. And while I call it a 'gratin' the term simply refers to the technique of topping a dish of any kind with a browned crust, usually containing bread crumbs and cheese. Some people prefer a creamy, more cheesy topping, but I generally do not and as I'm having the in-laws for dinner tonight who are not big cheese fans, I just used grated Parmesan in the bread crumbs for the topping. Delicious!

Best Mandoline
If you are looking to add a gadget to your kitchen and don't want to invest in a big, expensive food processor, I suggest the Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline. This device was recommended by Cook's Illustrated and everyone I know that uses a mandoline regularly agrees with their assessment that this is by far the best tool. Not only does it do the job of slicing and julienne very well, the storage is not bulky. 

The second, roasted mixed fingerling potatoes, are even easier to prepare in the oven or on the grill in a foil packet. A fingerling potato is a small, finger-shaped type of potato which may be any heritage potato type. They naturally grow small and narrow and should not to be confused with new potatoes, which simply are not fully grown. Fingerlings are fully grown at this smaller size. Popular fingerling varieties include the yellow-skinned Russian Banana, the orange-skinned French, and the Purple Peruvian. I simply use whatever my grocer has on hand, and thankfully this week they had mixed varieties in an open bin so I could select just the potatoes I wanted as they were not pre-packaged. I'm not going to bother with a recipe for these, as you scrub them as you would any potato, then simply slice them in half, sprinkle them with olive oil and your favorite seasonings. I also sprinkle a bit of panko-style bread crumbs on them to add a little crunch, which is totally optional.

Julian's Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Gratin of Summer Mixed Vegetables
1-2 zucchini
1-2 yellow squash
4-5 plum tomatoes
1 small yellow or red onion
1 tablespoon soft, not melted, butter
4 cloves of fresh garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Selecting the Produce
You can really use any combination of vegetables and I've had good success by including small egg plant (aubergine) as well as various squash varieties. Select the zucchini and squash that are as similar in size as possible and those with the most regular shape. If the squash narrow too much at one end as they naturally do, the slices will not be as ideal for the presentation as you will end up with discs of different diameters. Alternatively you can set these smaller end pieces aside and use for another dish.

Note I only used half of this onion.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Wash and slice the zucchini, squash and optional egg plant. Halve then thinly slice the onion. Butter the baking dish (oval or round preferred) with the soft butter. Arrange the sliced produce in the dish using one slice of each of the vegetables. Note that the onion is added to each segment but in a smaller piece only for flavor and does not add to the presentation. Once the dish is filled, crush or mince the garlic and sprinkle over the dish. Sprinkle with the olive oil and seasoned salt, pepper or other favorite seasonings.

To the melted butter, stir in the bread crumbs and cheese.  Sprinkle over the top of the vegetables.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the upper thrid of the oven. Bake 30 minutes then remove foil and continue baking another 15 minutes until the topping is lightly browned. Remove and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Keep consistent thickness of vegetables.

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