Week after week, my box brings the bounty of summer. Ripe tomatoes (so ripe they sometimes turn moldy within two days), fat green and yellow zucchini, paper bags full of small tender pink and yellow potatoes, and bunch after bunch of basil. All these vegetables happen to be ones that we don’t readily use so they’ve piled up as the weeks go on. We tend to go for things that can be easily steamed or sauteed, and these fellows don’t lend themselves particularly well to these techniques. (Yuck, steamed potatoes with steamed basil topping!)
But when I searched using my beloved Food Blog Search for recipes with potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes, I couldn’t find anything combining these three. Has no one else been confronted by this particular food dilemma? I would clearly have to strike out on my own, which is never a bad thing as long as I have the energy for a little culinary adventure.
Inspired by my one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Suppers, and author Deborah Madison’s love of gratins, I decided to make a giant, summery gratin out of my collection of wayward vegetables. I found a recipe online for Classic Potato Gratin that sounded rich and filling, essential as I wanted this to be a full-meal dish. But this recipe was decidedly un-vegan, containing both butter and cream, so I searched high and low for vegan cream recipes, finally locating and adapting a recipe for a vegan creme fraiche that turned out very well.
The dish turned out delicious. The main flavoring was the garlic and basil, and the contrasting textures of the different vegetables, from chewy potato topping down into soft roasted tomato and tender zucchini and waxy interior potato, were quite wonderful. The gratin was filling but not too rich, and the colors, pink and yellow potatoes, red tomatoes, green and yellow squash, and dark green basil, were just gorgeous.
I’m pretty proud of myself for coming up with a fairly elaborate and very delicious solution to my produce conundrum, so I’m submitting the recipe to Culinarty’s Original Recipe blog event. This is also a perfect entry for this month’s Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free! event, hosted by Rachel over at The Crispy Cook. The theme for this round-up of gluten-free delights is Seasonal Vegetables and well, it doesn’t get any more seasonal than a neverending summer cascade of potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini and basil!
I’ve written out the recipe below (this blog is part of Food Blog Search, so now there will be at least one recipe featuring the potato-tomato-zucchini trifecta) but I have a few caveats and addenda, as usual, so be sure to read those first!The first is that this recipe can probably be made with regular butter and cream if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making vegan cream, and, although I don’t know if it will end up insanely rich, I can imagine it will be delicious. The second is just to note that there is a lot of garlic called for here, but it is the main flavoring agent of the dish. Pressing it makes it milder, and cooking it for so long makes it milder. Still, if you aren’t a fan of garlic, I don’t suggest making this dish but leaving out the garlic, as that is the flavor holding the whole thing together.
The third note about the recipe is that it will quickly become obvious that there are no amounts given for most of the ingredients. This is because most recipes I’ve seen give the amount of potatoes in pounds (which makes sense because they can be such different sizes) and the amount of zukes and tomatoes by piece. I have no idea how many pounds of potatoes I used, as I don’t have a scale, and I don’t know how many individual potatoes I used, either. So the best I can do is to tell you to use about twice as much potato (by volume, sliced) as tomato and zucchini (by volume, sliced) combined. Cut up enough basil to sprinkle across two layers of whatever size pan you use. Use enough garlic to sprinkle it across each layer, and same goes for the Earth Balance. The vegan cream recipe below does have ingredient amounts, and should be enough cream for a large pan. Make the whole amount even if you are only making a small gratin – better to have extra than to run out. This is all about bounty, after all.
If you still need more guidance for ingredient amounts and proportions, here is a link to a Martha Stewart recipe I just found. These amounts would make a small gratin (like a square-pan size), although, reading the recipe, I think it would be inferior in flavor and richness to the recipe below. I really think whatever amount of the three veggies you have will be fine – if you have fewer layers, or your layers are part potato and part zucchini, it will still taste great.
Summer Bounty Gratin (Potato, Zucchini, Tomato, and Basil) (based on a Marlena Spieler recipe posted at epicurean.com)
(If you are looking at this recipe and asking yourself “Why the heck aren’t there any ingredient amounts?” please read the two paragraphs directly above.)
Potatoes (I used Huckleberry pink potatoes and Yellow Finns), peels left on, sliced into thin rounds
Zucchini, sliced into thin rounds or diagonally into thin ovals
Tomatoes, sliced into rounds (as thin as you can get)
10-20 garlic cloves, pressed or minced very fine
Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
1/2 C. unsweetened soy milk
2 t. lemon juice
2/3 C. olive oil
Salt & pepper
1. Place the sliced potatoes in a bowl with cold water to cover. Leave for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour. Remove from the cloudy water, and dry with a clean towel.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
3. Make the vegan cream:
In a blender, combine 1/2 C. unsweetened soy milk with 2 t. lemon juice and blend for a minute and a half on high. While still running the blender, add 2/3 C. olive oil through the pouring hole in the blender cap, very slowly, in a one continuous stream. Keep blending until it gets thick. (If you have leftover cream you can refrigerate it. It will keep in the fridge for about a week.)
4. Butter the bottom and sides of an earthenware baking casserole (a gratin dish), large enough to fit all the veggies. Or if, like me, you have no round ceramic pan, use an ordinary casserole dish. Ideally you’ll want to make two full layers of each veggie and a final layer of potato, so use a square pan if you have fewer veggies, a large rectangular pan if you have more veggies. Sprinkle crushed/minced garlic along the edges of the buttered sides of the pan.
5. Make a layer of potatoes, dot with Earth Balance (EB) pieces, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with a few spoonfuls of cream, scatter a little garlic on top.
6. Make a layer of zucchini rounds, dab a few bits of EB across the layer, sprinkle some salt and pepper, and arrange some basil strips across the layer. Drizzle with a few more spoonfuls of cream.
7. Make a layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle generously (but not excessively) with garlic and a few more dots of EB. More salt and pepper, a little more cream.
8. Repeat all this: potatoes with EB, s&p, garlic, cream; zucchini with EB, s&p, basil, cream; tomato with garlic, EB, s&p, cream.
9. Make a final layer of potatoes. End the top with a dabbing of butter, the last slosh of cream, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
10. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half, or until the potatoes are very tender and have absorbed all the cream; the top of the potatoes should be golden brown with darker brown splotches here and there. This is a very rustic dish and by its very nature is very forgiving timewise; if you need more time, lower the oven’s heat, and to speed the cooking up and give it a nice dark topping, raise the heat to 400°F for the last 10 to 15 minutes.