Posts Tagged ‘zucchini’

Children’s dinner | The ‘I wish it was cauliflower’ (but it’s not quite the season!) zucchini gratin

20 September 2012

Every morning I make lunch for Leo and Balthasar to take to school. When this began I thought I would use the opportunity to be terribly creative; in fact it has become the least inspired aspect of my cooking life. One day I make sandwiches, one day pasta. I alternate. I know the boys will eat this. The problem with school lunches is that I am not there, at the end of the table, frowning, admonishing, and — yes — forcing them to finish their grilled mackerel and ratatouille.

The children eat many things, and, if I may, I don’t think it’s because ‘we’ve been lucky’ but because I’ve made it an excruciating. daily. struggle. But not at school. At first I was just happy that they finished their meal; now I’ve become stuck in this pasta/sandwich routine. I am mindful of what goes into the lunchbox, of course, my mother‘s ever knowledgeable advice always chiming in my ears. But I leave the really good food, the fun food, and the mealtime fights for the evenings.

It seems to have payed off. Leo and Balthasar can be coaxed into eating practically anything; Louise, who is 2, is still in a tug of war. Some things need a bit more prodding, and, unhelpfully, it happens that onetime hits suddenly misfire. But there is some predictability. Naturally oftentimes I have little more patience than to throw some frozen peas into boiling water, serve that with a sunnyside egg, and call it dinner; but I know that practically anything that is diligently prepared, well seasoned, and cooked to the standards of something I would serve guests will be polished off.

Gratin for example. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever made gratin for guests. But nonetheless, gratin is a great example.

It started out with cauliflower. Winter is not the most propitious season to get children excited about vegetables, and at some point I had to find new ways to prepare cauliflower. I personally like cauliflower best raw, but one day I decided it was time to tackle gratin. I say ‘tackle’ because I was intimidated by béchamel sauce. Many years ago on a skiing holiday I volunteered to make béchamel sauce. It was for lasagna, I think. I knew the basic ingredients and felt confident that, by virtue of being French, I was the person best qualified for the job. All I managed to do was create a giant, ever expanding monster of butter, flour, and milk, which probably wasn’t even any good. As it happened, I had to suffer some lessons in béchamel making from Thomas, who made copious fun of me. This was a very long time ago.

I’ve since gained some confidence in the kitchen, so a while ago I decided to tackle béchamel again to make cauliflower gratin, which, come to think of it, is now probably my favorite way of eating cauliflower.

The punchline, of course, is that children love gratin. They also love anything that’s been simmered or stewed with onions, garlic, herbs, spices. They love ratatouille (they do!), they also love risotto (but weeknight dinners rarely enjoy the leisure of 45 minutes of undivided attention). So when I made this squash and zucchini gratin the other day, despite slight initial dismay that it wasn’t cauliflower, the children ate heartily, and asked for more.


Gratin is easy to make once the béchamel demon has been tamed. Ideally I’d make simple broiled or pan fried fish with this gratin, since fish and zucchini go so well together. On this particular day I was unprepared and just had some leftover rice, fried to crispiness in olive oil. That was good too.

Quantities are for a 9 x 13 inches (23 x 33 cm) oval dish.

6 medium-sized zucchini and/or yellow squash

Lots of basil leaves

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Good olive oil

About 3 1/2 cups (850 ml) béchamel sauce (this deserves its very own post and will be up soon, but in the meantime look here)

Freshly grated parmesan


Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)

Wash and thinly slice the zucchini crosswise (into disks) approximately 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick. Wash the basil leaves.

Place the zucchini slices upright in the dish. Intersperse a basil leaf every 4 or 5 slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pour a very thin drizzle of olive oil over the zucchini.

Pour the béchamel sauce evenly over the zucchini and grate lots of parmesan on top.

Bake the gratin for about 45 minutes, until nicely brown and bubbling. (Placing the rack in the upper half of the oven will help the gratin get a good color.)


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Baby food | Zucchini and flounder

20 September 2010

By accident the other day I made unexpectedly good food for my 6-month-old daughter. I was preparing dinner for my two older sons, a fairly common summer menu of zucchini and fish – flounder in this case. The ingredients seemed appropriate for a young new eater, so I just blended them for her. It became something quite new and incredibly good, so much so in fact that I plan to serve it as a mousse appetizer for an (adult) dinner very soon.


The portions are adapted to make 4 or 5 jars that can be frozen for a few weeks

1/2 medium onion

Olive oil

2 medium zucchini

3 in (8 cm)-slice flounder fillet


Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C)

Thinly slice and gently brown the onion in a little olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the sliced zucchini. Cover and let steam, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, about 10 minutes.

Bake the flounder in a small oven dish, drizzled with a little olive oil, for about 7 minutes.

Blend the zucchini and flounder in a food processor to the consistency of a soft mousse. Serve immediately or freeze for a few weeks.


6 September 2010

I make ratatouille very methodically. One vegetable at a time. Cut to the same size (or as close as possible). Added progressively. There’s a rhythm to it. It’s quite meditative.


Olive oil

3 medium onions

2 red peppers

2 medium eggplant

3 cloves garlic

4 zucchinis

4 plum tomatoes

Bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, and summer savory (if available)

Salt and pepper

Sherry vinegar


Thinly slice the onions. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, such as Le Creuset or cast-iron, large enough to hold the whole ratatouille. Add the onions to the oil, season with salt and pepper, and let them slowly melt until translucent, checking and stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the pan.

While the onions melt, cut the red peppers into 1/2 in (1 cm) squares*. Add them to the onions. Season with salt and pepper and let stew, checking and stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.

While the onions and peppers are stewing, cut the eggplant into 1/2  in (1 cm) cubes. Add eggplant and whole, peeled garlic cloves to saucepan, season with salt and pepper, and let stew, checking and stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.

(At this point it is a good idea to stir and check the bottom of the pan and add some olive oil if necessary.)

While the onions, peppers, and eggplant are stewing, slice the zucchini, not too thinly. Add to saucepan, season with salt and pepper, and let stew, checking and stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.

Next peal the tomatoes and dice them into 1/2  in (1 cm) cubes. Add to saucepan, season with salt and pepper and let stew, checking and stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.

Bind together with kitchen twine a sprig of rosemary, and a few sprigs each of thyme and summer savory if available. Add the herbs with 2 bay leaves to the ratatouille, stir from the bottom up, and let stew slowly a further 15-20 minutes approximately until the vegetables are cooked but not mushy. If you are serving the ratatouille cold, remove from heat a little early as the vegetables will continue to cook while the ratatouille cools.

Check salt and pepper seasoning and add 2-3 tablespoons of sherry vinegar to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.

*The actual dimension is not so important. The key is for all the vegetables to be cut to approximately the same size.

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