Before going to see the Harvard Sailing Team live one Saturday evening (if you live in NYC do yourself a favor and go go go), we decided to do the obvious thing first – congregate at the apartment and have a breakfast-for-dinner dinner. It was a fine plan that included buttermilk pancakes, mimosas, bacon, and explaining to one friend that we weren’t going to see an actual sailing team with, you know, boats and water. It also included this dish, which while not particularly breakfasty, had been bookmarked for a while, and since it had some eggs in it, I figured it would be ok if I snuck it in.
I made it, and followed the recipe pretty much to the letter. It looked very pretty going into the oven, and prettier coming out. I was excited! And then we ate it.
You know the “womp womp womp” sound effect? (See 2:50 – 3:05 of this video if you can’t picture it.) That’s basically what this recipe was. And I was very disappointed, because the recipe looked and sounded so promising. And did I mention it was pretty?
It was certainly edible, but it wasn’t much more past that. All the flavors sort of dulled together, the cheese getting lost with the under-seasoned zucchinis, the tomatoes not being slow-roasted so they just seemed watery, the rice amount so small it seemed like it was there by accident. Nothing about it popped. Which was frustrating, because a good gratin that uses summer vegetables well can make such a great light dinner for these upcoming months, or a perfect side dish when you have company. So below, I have the recipe with several alterations that includes replacing the tomato slices with bell peppers, adding various cheeses, and some strong mustard to the mix – because I do believe that with some fiddling, this could be quite good. Please do me a favor (after watching this and this of course) and let me know how it goes.
Zucchini and Red Pepper Rice Gratin
adapted from Gourmet, March 2008
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 1 1/2 pounds zucchini (about 3 medium), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 6 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 medium red or orange bell peppers, sliced into short strips
- 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon dried herbs de Provence, or dried all-purpose seasoning, or a mix of rosemary, thyme and/or basil
- 1 cup of grated cheese – I would use a mix of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano with sharper cheeses, like asiago and/or sharp cheddar
- 2 tablespoons of good mustard (I love the flavor of Annie’s mustard)
Cook rice according to package instructions or in your rice cooker.
While rice cooks, preheat oven to 450°F. Toss zucchini with olive oil (a tablespoon or two) n a shallow baking pan, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some ground pepper. Toss bell peppers with a little oil and salt in another baking pan. (You can put the zucchini and peppers in one larger roasting pan if you have it.)
Roast the vegetables in upper third of oven, turning vegetables once halfway through roasting, until tender, about 20 minutes. Leave oven on.
Meanwhile, cook onion and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet, until onions are slightly brown. (Be sure to add the garlic second to the onion, as garlic burns quickly.)
Stir together onion mixture, cooked rice, eggs, herbs, mustard, 1/2 cup of cheese mixture, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some more freshly ground pepper. Spread half of rice mixture in a shallow 2-quart baking dish, then top with half of zucchini. Spread remaining rice mixture over zucchini, then top with remaining zucchini. Top with the roasted peppers and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then sprinkle with remaining cheese
Bake in oven until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes.