May 15 – May 21, 2023
Monday: Grilled Chicken Chemuin
Tuesday: Kale Soup with Potatoes and Sausage
Wednesday: Turkey Burgers
Friday: Driftwood Pizza
Saturday: Dinner with Barbara’s former classmates and professor from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Class of 1978
Whipped Feta and Tomato Crostini, Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce / Chicken Chemuin with Lemon Confit and Parsley Sauce / Zucchini Gratin / Crispy Chickpea, Cucumber and Mint Salad / Klondike Bars
DECADENCE AND VEGETABLES
This is not a blog about the demise of the Roman Empire or a lament that America is going to hell in a handbasket. First of all, it’s a family blog and there will be no mention of the murals on the walls of the wealthy Romans who had summer homes in Pompeii or what went on in those homes. Nor is this blog political, and in any event, those ‘declinist’ theories about America usually tell more about the theorist than about the country. And regular readers will know that this is definitely not a paean to vegetarians or vegans. (I often wonder if the difference between them is not eggs or dairy products, but merely a spelling error.)
Well, at this point, you are probably wondering what the heck is this post about? And why does it have decadence and vegetables in its title, if it’s not about those things? Well, it is about those things. But the ‘decadence’ in this case, is fairly mild, having to do with butter, cream and cheese, not orgies or eating roast pheasants stuffed with song-birds. And the vegetables here are a side dish, not a main dish and certainly not the focus of an entire dietary regimen.
Last week we hosted a wonderfully pleasant dinner party with folks from the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh – friends of Barbara, a fellow graduate – many of whom had not seen one another for 45 years – and their friend and favorite professor of demography, Ravi. (Alas, we forgot to take pictures.) The best part of the evening was the company and the conversation. And it was sweet for me to see these old friends and fellow sufferers of academic rigor and discipline reminisce. And the food wasn’t half bad, if I say so myself.
And among the highlights of that not half-bad food, I hope our guests would agree with Beez and myself, was a decadent Gratin of Zucchini – a recipe from Ina Garten, that generous dispenser of butter and cream and (Gruyère) cheese. I’m not sure whether the 2 pounds I gained came from the zucchini or the martinis, but I’ve been telling all my vegan friends that zucchini has made me inflate like the Graf Zeppelin – I so enjoy seeing the puzzled looks on their emaciated faces.
This dish was perfect with the salad and the grilled chicken we served. If you can stop eating this after one bite, you must be one of those folks who can refrain from finishing a bag of potato chips once it’s been opened. Frankly, I don’t know whether to admire you or pity you – let’s just agree that we’re very different. But whatever your dietary aspirations, foibles, shibboleths or myths, do try this zucchini dish. If you’re dieting, let this be your once-a-week treat. I mean, look, we’re not talking red meat or cake or ice cream, we’re talking zucchini.
PROVENÇAL ZUCCHINI GRATIN
(adapted from Ina Garten, Modern Comfort Food)
Timing: One hour, twenty minutes
Ingredients: Serves 6
2 ½ pounds small zucchini, sliced ½-inch thick, crosswise
1 large yellow onion, halved, sliced crosswise
1 cup half-and-half
¾ cup grated Gruyère
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs – get a good loaf of bread, a French boule would be perfect, and remove crusts before breaking down in a food processor
5 tablespoons butter, divided, and a bit more to butter the casserole dish
2 teaspoons minced thyme leaves
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 F
Butter and 8 x 10 gratin dish
Slice zucchini and onion
Make bread crumbs
Mince thyme leaves
Measure out the half-and-half
Grate the nutmeg
Grate the Gruyère
Cook the Gratin:
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-low in a Dutch oven.
Add the onion and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until tender, but not browned.
Add the zucchini, 2 teaspoons of salt, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Then uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the mixture with the flour and stir gently, then raise the heat to medium-high and slowly add the half-and-half, allowing each addition to come to a boil before adding the next. Off the heat, stir in the thyme, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
Spoon this mixture into the prepared gratin dish and gently flatten the top.
Combine the bread crumbs and Gruyère in a bowl and sprinkle on top. Dice the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into small bits and place on top.
Now, bake for 20 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to sit for 10 minutes and serve hot or warm. You can rewarm this dish in a 300 F oven.