“This book is for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chaffer-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat” ~ Julia Child | Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1
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The two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking have been a staple on my bookshelf for fifteen + years. I bought them at a musty bookstore in San Francisco during the early days of my IT career, when training classes were taken onsite rather than online. It was one of those places that make you feel like you're walking into a Paul Auster novel.
I've paged through them over the years, swearing to myself this would be the year I'd tackle her cassoulet, but alas, I've yet to cook from them. Instead, I savor the smell of their musty pages and admire the previous owner's handiwork in all of the smudges.
They remind me of growing up.
While I didn't fully appreciate it back then, both of my grandmothers were incredible cooks. How I loved being in the kitchen with them, watching as they'd steal a glance at the recipe sitting off to the side. The history of all their cooking was splattered on the pages. The meals our family ate for the holidays, at church potlucks, and
Lately, I'm finding that the romance of cookbooks isn't flipping through them for nostalgia's sake, or even inspiration, but instead when I choose something to make and surrender to the recipe's every word. A scrap of paper marking the page that I keep referring to, wanting to make certain I'm doing exactly as it directs
Hoping it will turn out as delicious as the name leads me to believe, and happy to have a dish outside of our regular rotation
Lately, I've been in a strange but wonderful place where I haven't been feeling overly creative in the kitchen. With all of the fun things to do outside during the day, along with produce from the garden, dinner most nights have been something as simple as a tossed salad with a bit of protein, and a drizzle of balsamic over the top. I wouldn't label it a rut per se, instead,
simply a different season
Certainly, there's no one who can grow a zucchini bigger and better than my parents. Although this week we've been bringing home some in the five to six-pound range.
Running a little short on creativity, I went searching for ideas
The Food52 Genius Cookbook was published a year or so ago, and is precisely the thing you need if you'd like to be inspired and have something to guide you along. It's recipes highlighting a technique, with secrets and tricks that not only help you with the recipe but make you a better cook at the same time.
I'm far from a detailed or perfect cook myself, so when I found a book dedicated to finding the best (the genius) recipes, I was all ears.
When I ran across Julia Child's Gratin of Zucchini, Rice, and Onions with Cheese, I decided the long wait was over. I put down the cookbook in hand, and instead reached for the bookshelf
I promise two + pounds of zucchini doesn't look quite as daunting once it's shredded, salted, and squeezed dry. What's left is a tamed pile and a lot of green, lightly salted liquid that can find its uses in veggie soups or sauces
It's a gratin with a complex flavor, light and creamy without being loaded with calories. A recipe that reminds me of risotto without all the stirring. The sauce thickens nicely and is by the rice, creating a light béchamel.
The only swap from the original was brown rice for white. All that was required was a little extra cooking time.
A few notes about the recipe
When the recipe says “zucchini juices and milk” it isn't an exact amount of either. I've found a one-to-one ratio works well (1 1/4 cup zucchini juice + 1 1/4 cup milk), although I'm sure you can't go wrong however you happen to do it.
Mine took a bit longer in the oven than the recipe led me to believe, but that was probably because of the brown rice. The recipe suggests the oven at 425 deg F, but I went with 400 because it needed to be in the oven a good 35 minutes and I was worried about it burning
ps: More fun recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturdays
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~ Adapted barely from Food 52's Genius Recipes and the original from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2
Julia Child's Zucchini Au Gratin
- 2 - 2 ½ lbs. zucchini (or other summer squash)
- ½ cup short grain brown rice (or white rice)
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour (or any flour of your choice, especially if you'd like to make the recipe gluten-free)
- about 2 ½ cups warmed zucchini juices and milk
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese + a few tbsp for the top
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400° F
- Shred the zucchini and toss them, along with a heaping tsp of salt and allow to drain in a colander (put a bowl under the colander as you'll want to reserve the juices).
- After 10-15 minutes, squeeze as much as you're able, of the excess water out of the zucchini. (I've found if I put the zucchini in a nut bag, it works really well)
- Set the zucchini aside on paper towels to dry
- Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil.
- Drop the rice into the boiling (and salted) water. Bring it back to a rapid boil for 8 minutes.
- Drain, run cold water over the rice, and set aside on paper towels to dry
- Return the pan to the stovetop over low (or simmering) heat. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn, we're simply warming it a bit while we work on browning the onions and zucchini
- Add 1 part zucchini juices to 1 part milk. (The recipe calls for 2 ½ cups of liquid in total. If you'd like your gratin to be on the wetter side, I'd lean toward 2 ½ cups. For a drier gratin, closer to 2 cups)
- In a large frying pan over medium heat, cook the onions slowly in 3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they're tender and translucent.
- Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring slightly for several minutes, or until the onions have just browned
- Add the zucchini and garlic to the pan, toss, and cook until the zucchini is almost tender.
- Sprinkle in the flour, stir and remove from the heat after a minute or so
- Gradually stir in the 2 ½ cups warm milk/zucchini juice; make sure the flour is well blended and smooth.
- Put the pan over moderately high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring.
- Remove from the heat again, stir in the blanched rice and ½ cup of the grated Parmesan.
- Taste carefully for seasoning and add additional salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary
- Butter a 6-8 cup baking dish that is about 1 ½ to 2 inches deep.
- Turn the zucchini mixture into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top.
- Dribble the remaining olive oil over the cheese.
- Bake in the upper third of the oven until the gratin is bubbling, the top has browned, and it appears that most of the liquid has absorbed. (Keep an eye on it, and you'll begin to see it set up, and the surface become slightly browned) Mine took about 30-35 minutes
- Let it sit for about 8 to 10 minutes before serving. It will still be hot, and the dish will hold together a bit better for serving.
- Serve warm.