Recipe of the Week: Veggie Gratin

While mac n cheese or meatloaf may be someone’s idea of comfort food, I prefer rice. Stir-fried, boiled, or baked, rice is my go-to when a rainstorm hits or I’m just in the mood to hunker down by the fire and this gratin is my new comfort food.

Put aside any notions you have of the word gratin–there are no potatoes in the dish, nor is there a ridiculous amount of cheese. The creaminess comes from arborio rice (and a splash of milk) and the veggies make it seem less naughty. It’s delicious hot or at room temperature, which is a must for comfort food; no fussiness allowed. A friend made it for me when my son was born and I gratefully ate the entire dish in one day. It’s wonderful with summer squash but substitute seasonal veggies and herbs; sautéed butternut or acorn squash with sage would be wonderful, or add a handful of chopped Swiss chard for a vegetarian side dish. A leek and ham version would make a hefty winter dish (or main course), and a scoop of gratin with poached eggs makes an elegant breakfast or brunch. And it’s perfect for holiday guests; make it, stick it in the ‘fridge, and let them eat at will.

VEGGIE GRATIN

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ medium onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1½ pounds summer squash, cut into ½-inch dice

1 red bell pepper, diced

Salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 large eggs

½ cup 1% milk

1/2 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice, cooked (see below)

1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves

½ cup (2 ounces) grated Gruyere cheese

¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil (a 3.5 quart Le Creuset baking dish works perfectly and looks lovely).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, squash, bell pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until the squash is translucent and pepper tender, about 10 minutes. Add black pepper, taste, and adjust salt if necessary. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.
  3. Beat together the eggs, milk, and ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the cooked rice, thyme, sautéed squash, and the cheeses. Scrape into the baking dish.
  4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until nicely browned on the top and edges. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. The gratin is good hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Serves 6-8

Note: The rice mixture will keep overnight in the ‘fridge. The gratin can be made a day ahead and reheated, and leftovers will be good for 4 days.

Cooking the rice for the gratin: Cook the rice as you would pasta in a large pot of boiling water. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil, add a pinch of salt, and add the rice. Boil for 15 minutes until the rice is tender (do not overcook), then drain and set aside.

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