We have a truly world-class library here in Princeton. No, not the university library, which is so vast you need a skateboard to navigate the aisles, but the town’s public library, which has a fantastic collection of books, cds, dvds, movies, and even tech products that you can try out. (A special shout-out to my good friend Jan, who’s the head children’s librarian there). The library also holds film series, lectures, musical performances and demonstrations throughout the year, including a recent series of cooking demonstrations from local chefs. I managed to attend only one, given by Christopher Albrecht, executive chef of Enoterra, a terrific restaurant in Kingston. On the day I attended, he made a summer squash gratin with a base of onions and fennel, topped with parmesan cheese and goat cheese. It was delicious but I wanted more of a crispy topping similar to the one my friend Stacey made in her vegetable tian. I took inspiration from both of their recipes, omitting Chef Albrecht’s goat cheese, and adding eggplant and breadcrumbs as well as parmesan cheese to the topping. I changed the cooking times and temperature too to allow for a crunchy finish at the top. The result was a recipe I plan to make over and over again, especially now that the garden is yielding such abundant squash and eggplant. The recipe starts with a base of fennel and onion that is cooked slowly until it caramelizes. This adds such great flavor. Then for this casserole, which feeds two really hungry people, or four normal appetites for a side dish, you’ll need one green zucchini, one yellow squash, and one Japanese eggplant. I used little grape tomatoes because that’s what I had but plum tomatoes would work well too. The herbs, zucchini and eggplant are from my garden. After you’ve caramelized the onions and fennel, place them in a casserole with some chopped up fresh herbs (I used thyme, oregano and rosemary). Slice the other vegetables thinly. I used a mandoline and sliced them about 1/8 inch thick. Layer the vegetables atop the onion/fennel mixture. Continue until the casserole is filled. Layer them tightly because they’ll shrink during cooking. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and more herbs. Next comes the topping of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Then bake until the top is crispy and crunchy. At this point, the smells coming from the kitchen were irresistible. But the proof was in the pudding – or rather the gratin. And it was a winner. We literally scraped the dish clean. Summertime Gratin printable recipe here (feeds two very hungry people as a side dish or four normal appetites) 2 T. olive oil 1 medium onion, sliced 1/2 large fennel bulb, sliced 1 small zucchini 1 small yellow squash 1 Japanese eggplant grape tomatoes, or plum tomatoes sprinklings of chopped fresh herbs. I used thyme, rosemary and oregano salt, pepper topping: 1/4 cup parmesan cheese 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs 1 T. butter
- Saute the onions and the fennel in the olive oil until caramelized. This should take about 30-40 minutes. Place in the bottom of an oiled oven-proof casserole. The one I used measured 10 inches by 7 inches at the widest points.
- Slice the zucchini, squash and eggplant about 1/8 inch thick. Slice the grape tomatoes in half, or if using plum tomatoes, about 1/8 inch thick. Arrange atop the fennel/onion mixture in shingled fashion. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh herbs.
- Melt the butter in a pan and turn off the heat. Add the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and blend well.
- Sprinkle the topping over the casserole
- Bake, covered with aluminum foil, for 1/2 hour at 400 degrees.
- Remove the foil and bake at 425 for another 10 minutes or until the topping is browned.