Sometimes, you read a recipe, or a friend sends you some ideas, and you immediately want to make it, bake it, taste it, create it. Other times, the idea is welcomed, is intriguing… but it sits in the memory banks awaiting a moment of inspiration and action. My friend Karo sent me an email about her version of Julia Childs’ sauteed zucchini, and how it can be transformed into a gorgeous gratin. I liked her email so much that I posted it here. And I kept the recipe in my head, waiting for a moment to be inspired.
That moment came earlier this week, when I saw the most luscious, green and gorgeous zucchini (courgettes) at O’Gourmet Food Hall. Zucchinis are a member of the squash family – and they are not actually vegetables, but fruit… the swollen ovaries of the zucchini flower. Quite sexy actually, and absolutely delicious. The specimens at O’Gourmet were lovely – crisp and bright green, a nice size and shape. My initial instinct was to bake zucchini bread. I still may do that, but Karo’s Julia inspired letter bubbled to the front of my mind. The key to the recipe is grating the zucchini – it turns it into a totally different vegetable and tastes … of pure green and sunshine.
I love the fact that Karo was inspired by Julia, and she in turn inspired me. Each version is made and remade into the cook’s own style. And each version is dependent upon the quality of ingredients, season and inspiration. Recipes are like stories – they are personal and reflect the cook’s personality and joy. Recipes like this – based on the genius of Julia Child, and her innate ability to bring the best out of simple, classic ingredients – can be deeply personalised, and joyfully shared.
This is actually a double recipe … and it is incredibly adaptable and forgiving. Use the sauteed zucchini as a wonderful side dish – or add a few tomatoes or mushrooms, and serve with rice or pasta as a main course. The gratin takes the sauteed zucchini and gilds them with cheese and cream and egg – bake this concoction, and you create a lovely crustless quiche that is satisfying and delicious. You could of course, pour the whole thing into a crust – or even saute thinly sliced rounds or stops of zucchini and create a firmer base. You could add more cheese on top – or breadcrumbs – or pine nuts. You could dot the whole thing with roasted tomatoes or mushrooms. The limits are you imagination. I do think that the gratin is best eaten at room temperature or even cold. The heat tends to flatten out the delicacy of flavour and texture.
Serves 4 (may be less if greedy, or served as a main course)
- 3 – 4 medium – large zucchini (courgettes) – about 2 – 3 cups grated
- 1 tsp + 1 tbsp butter (or use all olive oil if you wish it to be vegan)
- 1 tsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 small white onion (or shallots or leeks), finely minced
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- Few tablespoons of white wine (optional)
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- White pepper
Set a strainer over a medium sized bowl. Wash the zucchini well, and top and tail them. Grate directly into the strainer. I grated half the zucchini very fine and half the zucchini quite rough – I like the contrast in texture, but do with it what you prefer. Add a pinch of salt, and allow the zucchini to drain for at least 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tsp of butter together with 1 tsp of olive oil. Add the minced onion and garlic, and saute for at least five minutes or so, or until transparent. If you are using white wine for added flavour, add it now, and allow to bubble into the onions and garlic, and cook away. Season with herbs, salt and pepper.
Squeeze the zucchini in the strainer to remove as much liquid as possible. Reserve the liquid if you are making a gratin. Add the extra butter and olive oil, and add the zucchini to the hot pan. Spread it out in the pan so it cooks, and bring the heat up to high. Saute for five minutes or so, or until just the edges of the zucchini strands are starting to brown. You want to keep the bright green colour, but you also want to make sure that it does not taste raw.
Serve, hot or at room temperature.
- Sauteed zucchini as above
- 1/2 cup milk (or cream, coconut milk, oat milk etc)
- About 3/4 cup reserved zucchini liquid
- Salt and pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup pecorino plus extra for topping if you like – I used a Pecorino Sardo
- 1 tsp mixed dried or fresh Italian herbs
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- About 1/2 cup melting cheese – I used a gorgeous Raclette from O’Gourmet – delicate enough not to overwhelm the dish. You could use a Gruyere, Emmental, even a light Brie.
Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Have a baking pan ready. I used a round glass baking dish.
Spread the sauteed zucchini across the bottom of the pan, ensuring that it covers the entire dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, zucchini liquid, salt and pepper, eggs, 1/2 cup pecorino, herbs and mustard. Set aside for a moment.
Chop the raclette into small chunks and dot all over the sauteed zucchini. Pour over the cream mixture, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until puffed and browned. It will just wobble, but be firm as well. About five minutes before time is up, sprinkle some extra cheese over the top if you really want to be decadent.
Serve at room temperature or even cold, with a crisp bitter side salad.