Biting into a pattypan squash, I wonder if Michigan’s short growing season compresses and concentrates local vegetable and fruit flavors, providing us with the most flavorful produce imaginable. This speculation is unlikely, of course, but this has to be the tastiest squash I’ve ever eaten.
And hallelujah! We’re finally in the middle of Michigan’s growing season, certainly, my favorite time of the year. Whether you grow your own, purchase vegetables and fruit from roadside stands, farmers markets, online from Lunasa.us, or local groceries, the simple joy of purchasing and eating Michigan-grown produce is, for me, one of summer’s finest pleasures.
Savoring local vegetables, especially baby vegetables, which are more flavorful as they have less water content, can be as simple as rinsing under cold water and eating from the colander – maybe with a pinch of kosher salt. But summer wouldn’t be summer without preparing a good vegetable gratin.
The word “gratin” actually refers to a recipe, usually made in a shallow baking dish, which is covered in a golden brown crust. If you are in possession of a gratin dish (Tian), you’re good to go. However any shallow, 2-quart oven-safe dish makes a lovely gratin. If you’re the type of cook who doesn’t like following recipes to the letter, gratins may be your new best friend.
Gratins can be made with abandonment- customized to use your favorite summer vegetables. I enjoy tomatoes (any variety), zucchini, eggplant, onions, leeks, fresh herbs and potatoes — all are wonderful mixed and matched in gratins.
An article in Fine Cooking Magazine suggests layering vegetables for concentrating individual flavors, with the bottom layer consisting of caramelized onions or leeks, and the top layer an arrangement of vegetables, sliced the same width for uniform cooking. Because of their low moisture content, potatoes should be parboiled and eggplant should be partially roasted; most other vegetables may be used raw. Compact vegetables and overlap them slightly as you cover the caramelized onions or leeks.
Italian, French and Spanish hard and semi-hard grating cheeses are excellent combined with bread crumbs and used as a topping. Medium-soft cheeses, such as mozzarellas, goat cheeses and fontinas, would also be a wonderful toppings.
This recipe was adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine,Zucchini Summer Squash Gratin