When you are as obsessed with food and wine as I am, balance can be very difficult to find. There’s always a new restaurant I want to try, a bottle of wine I want to taste, a recipe I want to tweak, or a culinary technique I want to learn. Those experiences tend to be intensely caloric and not always nutritionally sound, so I am constantly on the lookout for dishes/recipes that allow me to have fun in the kitchen yet aren’t sabotaging my attempts at a balanced, healthy lifestyle. This Ratatouille Gratin perfectly fits the bill.
What’s striking to me about this gratin is that it somehow perfectly balances a lightness of texture from the vegetables with a silky richness and complexity from the wine, leeks/garlic/shallots, and cheese. Not to mention, the presentation is stunning. The flavors are so lovely that I don’t mind the prep needed to make it just for my hubby and me, yet I would proudly serve it at a dinner party. Yes, the preparation is a bit finicky and time consuming, but the end result is so gorgeous that the extra time is completely worth it. To make your life a lot simpler, I highly suggest using a mandolin to slice the veggies. I have decent knife skills, but consistently slicing all that summer squash to 1/8″ does not sound like fun to me. If you don’t have a mandolin, I hear many people use vegetable peelers to great success to make the ribbons.
This recipe was originally inspired by a Food & Wine Summer Squash gratin, but as I looked over that recipe, I found myself wanting an herbal component, a more pronounced garlic/onion flavor, and to be honest, more cheese. As I built the gratin, swirling the squash ribbons, I realized I was leaning towards the flavors of ratatouille, and even though I omitted the eggplant this first time, I knew where I was headed. I’ve now made it with eggplant included (I like those long, skinny japanese eggplants because they are similar in size to the squash) or just the summer squash. It’s delicious both ways!
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 leek (white and tender green section only, sliced thinly)
1 large or 2 small shallots, sliced thinly
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium japanese eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices*
3 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices*
3 medium yellow summer squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices*
4 oz shredded gruyere cheese
1 plum tomato, thinly sliced lengthwise
*You can feel free to substitute or replace any of the zucchini, squash, or eggplant with each other. It will still make a gorgeous and delicious gratin.
In a large skillet or frying pan, heat your olive oil over medium heat then add the leeks, shallots, garlic and thyme. Add a sprinkle of salt and cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. You aren’t trying to brown these veggies, you just want to cook them gently so they release their liquid and the flavors meld together. Add the wine (I used dry vermouth because I always seem to have an open bottle) and turn up the heat to medium high. You want to cook the mixture now until the liquid has evaporated, just a minute or two. Spread the mixture on the bottom of your baking dish – I used a 10″ quiche plate. Important, do not clean that frying pan just yet. You’ll be coming back to it after you’ve prepped your summer squash.
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Next, prepare your squash. Set out a large baking sheet and line it with paper towels. Place the zucchini and yellow squash slices on a single layer, salt and pepper, cover with paper towels, and continue layering/seasoning your zucchini and squash slices with paper towels between. I built these layers as I sliced my squash with the mandolin. Once all your zucchini and yellow squash is sliced and seasoned, let it sit for 10 minutes to draw out excess liquid. While that is waiting, thinly slice your tomato and grate your gruyere.
After 10 minutes, place the butter in the pan that you cooked the leek mixture and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Pull out a pastry brush and get ready to build your gratin.
To build the gratin, using the pastry brush, lightly paint the now melted butter and pan drippings onto one side of a zucchini slice. Sprinkle a tiny bit of gruyere on the buttered side so it sticks to the slice. Tightly roll that slice of zucchini and set it on upright on the leek mixture in the center of the baking dish. Working outward from that center slice, continue brushing your zucchini and squash slices, adding a bit of cheese, then wrapping/coiling them tightly around each other until you fill the baking dish. Brush/season the tomato slices then tuck them in intervals between the zucchini and squash. Scrape any remaining butter/oil from the pan and drizzle it over the top of the gratin. Sprinkle the remaining gruyere over the top, and if you like, add a little extra chopped fresh thyme.
Bake for 40-55 minutes or until the squash is tender and the top has browned a bit. Let cool slightly, then serve with lovely bread to sop up the delicious juices on the bottom.
And there you have it, all the delicious flavors of Ratatouille in a gorgeous gratin.