The countdown begins, and a vegetable gratin
This past weekend was filled with good stuff. I celebrated my father's 68th birthday Saturday, was inundated with hugs and kisses from my handsome 3- and 4-year-old nephews, and I went shopping for my upcoming trip to Northern California, because who wants to look schlubby on vacation?
The first Sunday morning surprise: a steady rain greeted me when I got up to walk the dog, and temperatures hovered around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (if only early in the day). Such a relief! It was an unusual way to usher in August, typically the hottest month of the year, but a very welcome one.
My second Sunday morning treat: an email from my travel buddy noting that we would be in California in less than 72 hours. Let the countdown begin!
I spent the day running errands and straightening up. I insist on leaving my house clean and neat before going out of town — I can't handle returning to a disorderly mess. That philosophy trickles down to the kitchen and meal planning. I must use up any and all perishable items before departure.
When dinner rolled around, I scoured the fridge and pantry. Time to use the CSA red creamers (and a few baby yellow potatoes), the storage onions in the bin, the tub of feta from Costco that seemed like such a great deal weeks ago. No grocery store runs allowed.
These ingredients were perfect for a gratin, a delicious layering of vegetables I accented with garlic, a few kalamata olives, and topped with homemade breadcrumbs. Almost as good the tasty gratin — peering into a nearly empty refrigerator at night's end.
Gratins are typically served as side dishes, but I let this play the starring role Sunday night, accompanied by a simple green salad.
Tomato, Onion and Potato Gratin
Serves 8 as a side dish
1 1/2 pounds red creamer potatoes, thinly sliced
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
2 slices sourdough bread
handful of fresh basil leaves
handful of fresh parsley leaves
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil or butter a 6-cup gratin dish, and rub the bottom and sides of the dish with the cut end(s) of a halved garlic clove.
Place a skillet over a burner set to medium-low heat, glaze it with olive oil, and add the onion. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Add 3 finely chopped garlic cloves to the onion in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
The potatoes must be very thinly sliced, a little shy of 1/4-inch thick. Steam them until tender, about 5-8 minutes, and set aside.
Put the bread slices in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add a few teaspoons of minced garlic and freshly chopped basil and parsley, and set aside.
To build the gratin, place a layer of steamed potatoes slices on the bottom of the greased gratin dish. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt, then layer with half of the caramelized onion-garlic mixture. Top with a second potato layer, season, add the rest of the cooked onions, then top with sliced tomatoes. Tuck a few basil leaves into the crevices, sprinkle with more salt and pepper, then top with chopped olives, freshly crumbed feta cheese, and light, fluffy homemade breadcrumbs.
If you have only canned breadcrumbs 1) throw them away and 2) skip this step. I would happily forgo the crunch of fresh breadcrumbs rather than subject myself to the processed version.
Place the gratin dish onto a baking sheet to catch any spills, and bake for 45-60 minutes. The topping will be golden brown and the interior heated through when done. Garnish with freshly chopped herbs before serving.