For anyone who says they hate zucchini, I'd be willing to bet they've never had one so fresh that the verdant gourds tingle the tips of their fingers with a glistening coat of spines. Fresh zucchinis are real summer treat and one of the joys of cultivating a garden during the warmer months.
A little olive oil, salt and pepper are all you need to make these prolific summer wonders sweet, juicy, and bursting with the essence of a sun drenched summer garden. When it comes to squash, "prolific" is the key word, so by now that initial elation about the garden bounty has probably turned to boredom, and those luscious baby zucchinis are starting to look more like bloated baseball bats, basking in the later summer sun.
Here's a simple recipe that might inject a little of that initial enthusiasm back into this humble gourd. Best of all, it works well with zucchinis that have grown a little past their prime.
The key to this recipe is to salt and squeeze the zucchini to get rid of the excess water before baking the gratin. If you don't, you'll end up with a soggy mess with bits of watery cheese in between. Along the same lines, I salt my zucchini almost universally. Whether you're slicing and sautéing, or shredding and putting on pizza, removing the extra water keeps the zucchini from getting soggy and speeds up caramelization.
The other thing that sets my gratin apart from most is that I use a trick I learned while developing my mac and cheese recipe. Instead of making a béchamel, I just toss the shredded cheese in potato starch before adding the cream. This creates a rich cheesy sauce that's faster and more foolproof than doing it the long way.
- put the zucchini in a colander, the sprinkle on the salt. Toss to coat evenly with salt and leave the zucchini in the colander set over a bowl for one hour. The salt not only seasons the zucchini it draws out extra water, preventing your gratin from getting soggy.
- Add the Gruyere, potato starch and ground nutmeg to a bowl and toss to combine evenly.
- Use your hands to squeeze out the excess water from the zucchini, then arrange 1/3 of them in a single layer in an oven safe dish with high sides.
- Cover with 1/3 of the cheese.
- Do two more alternating layers of zucchini and cheese, then pour the cream evenly over everything.
- Place the gratin in the oven and bake until the zucchini is soft and the cheese on top has browned.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).