Right on cue with the change of seasons, comfort foods have started to capture my cravings in a big way. While I’m still not willing to spend hours stirring a pot, I can handle quick and easy prep with slow roasting in the oven as a transitional cooking method. Even though I’ve always loved the idea of adding creamy cheese and a crusty topping to practically any vegetable, gratins have just recently became part of my fall repertoire.
“So what exactly is a gratin?” my son-in-law asked last week when I brought one to the table. I wasn’t able to give a very coherent answer at the time but have found that that the word comes from the French word, gratter meaning “to scrape” — thus the grated cheese on top. Generally it’s layered vegetables cooked in a shallow dish with a browned crust — cheese, breadcrumbs and sometimes cream are involved making it both golden and crispy and somewhat indulgent as all good comfort foods should be. Think of it as a French casserole, and you’ll get the idea.
While thrilled that my paper bag method of ripening tomatoes is actually working, I’ve unexpectedly ended up with a bumper crop of ripe tomatoes. My first tomato gratin with Port Madison goat cheese was so delicious, I’ve made several since experimenting with cooking times and temperatures. As often is the case, the slowest roasting (about an hour and 45 minutes at 350) with toppings added at the end resulted in the most intense flavor but if you’re short on time, 35 to 40 minutes at 400 degrees works well too.
Tomato Gratin Recipe
5 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 ounces creamy goat cheese (or more if you have it)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
Fresh thyme leaves
Salt & pepper
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a shallow, ovenproof dish rubbed with a bit of olive oil, arrange sliced tomatoes, overlapping slices, one or two layers thick. Dot here and there with goat cheese (if you have a round of goat cheese, you can cut in slices and intersperse with tomatoes).
Drizzle all over with olive oil. Scatter thyme leaves, salt & pepper over top.
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.
Meanwhile saute sliced red onion in frying pan with olive oil over medium heat until golden — about 5-6 minutes.
Toss breadcrumbs with about a T of olive oil.
Remove gratin from oven, put red onions and breadcrumbs on top and bake for 30 additional minutes or until golden brown.
Serve with crusty bread to sop up all the delicious juices or better yet on top of buttered pasta as a roasted tomato sauce.
Potatoes are probably the most commonly used vegetable in the classic gratin and there are many variations on that theme. You simply can’t go wrong when combining molten cheese with practically any vegetable and then roast them together until they’re all caramelized, creamy and crunchy in every bite. You can use all potatoes, mix in mushrooms, other root vegetables or as I did, winter squash. I used gruyere cheese in this recipe but any cheese that melts will work. Play around with what you have and I’m sure you’ll create one winner after another.
Potato & Winter Squash Gratin Recipe
Winter squash, peeled and seeded, cut into very thin slices (I used about half a Kambocha squash from the farmers market)
Potatoes, peeled, very thinly sliced (I used about 2 large red potatoes from my garden)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup gruyere cheese, grated
Several fresh sage leaves
1/2 C heavy cream
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place the sliced potatoes and winter squash in separate bowls, toss to coat each with olive oil, chopped garlic, salt & pepper.
Place a layer using half the potatoes in a shallow ovenproof dish, overlapping slices. Place another layer using all the winter squash on top of the potatoes. Use the second half of the potatoes as the third and final layer.
Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes, until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife.
Remove the foil, drizzle the cream over top of potatoes, then scatter with grated cheese and sage leaves.
Turn oven up to 425 and continue to bake, uncovered for 20-25 minutes longer until cheese is golden and bubbling.
The layer of kombucha squash between the potatoes almost melts like butter.
Speaking of winter squash, I can’t go without mentioning one of my favorite recipes for Winter Squash Gratin. You just can’t get any more comfortable than that when it comes to fall and winter food.
If you want more inspiration for cooking these and many other vegetable recipes, I discovered two new cookbooks, both have separate chapters on gratins — Gorgeous Vegetables by Annie Bell, is, um, a gorgeous book and Fast, Fresh & Green by Susie Middleton is equally as wonderful.