(Edited to add a description of how this gratin tasted, because I thought you might want to know. Maybe.)
It was all conceived so perfectly.
I have been saving some recipes from Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen, to try after Cook For Julia. We were out of ice cream, and the Cook’s Illustrated website offered an ice cream recipe that promised to correct all the imperfections of my homemade ice cream. I had some beef short ribs in the freezer from our local beef farmer, bought for a recipe I thought I had but didn’t, so I found a recipe for short ribs in Cook’s Illustrated magazine that started in the oven, and finished on the grill, promising meltingly tender, crispy on the outside, flavor-packed ribs. I am still trying to clear out the vegetables, and with perfect timing ATK tweeted a mouth-watering-sounding recipe for a squash-onion-tomato gratin that fit the bill.
I read each recipe carefully, and figured out the logistics. If I made the ice cream custard in the morning, I could churn it by the afternoon, and it would be ready for dessert. The ribs could be popped in the oven mid-afternoon, and out to the grill by the time I needed the oven for the gratin. Simple.
The ice cream custard came together without a hitch, while I drank a cup of coffee and waited for my sleeping family to wake. It smelled and tasted sweet and creamy, and my hands smelled of vanilla from splitting open the vanilla bean and scraping out the seeds. The family arose, and I popped out to the Farmers’ Market for bread, goat cheese, fruit, corn, and potatoes.
I couldn’t find potatoes at the Farmers’ Market, and I realized I needed eggs (6 egg yolks went into the ice cream), so I stopped at a farmstand very near my house, where they grow great potatoes. They usually have eggs too. Well, the potatoes were there, and some tomatillos (!!!) that I never see around here, but no eggs. I bought my potatoes and tomatillos, and one more stop at our CSA for eggs (she sells eggs every day), and finally back home.
When I returned, there was lunch and errands to run with The Husband, and we ended up at Lowe’s looking at kitchen cabinets. You know how this happens if you run errands with husbands. So we arrived home at the somewhat tardy hour of 3:00 pm. It was time to churn the ice cream. But wait, checking its temperature with my instant-read thermometer, I found it wasn’t quite cold enough to churn, according to the recipe. So, okay, how much longer can it take to chill down 5 degrees? I decided to get on with the ribs.
While trimming the ribs, I cut myself with my marvelously sharp knife. Nothing requiring medical attention, but I did have to stop trimming, stop the bleeding, wash my hands, apply bandaids. Back to trimming ribs with sore finger. Mission accomplished, ribs trimmed, spice rub applied, into the 13 x 9 baking dish, foil-covered, into the oven. Back into the bathroom, to wash my hands again, and remove the bandaids that were now covered in raw meat, and apply a clean, dry bandaid. Breathe. At least The Husband, Boy, and Dog are out for a walk, and it’s quiet. Let’s churn that ice cream.
Ice cream still not cold enough??? The bowl goes into the freezer for a few minutes, surely that’ll do the trick. Try to take temp of ribs. Instant-read thermometer no longer displaying anything to read. Throw instant-read thermometer into sink, turn down oven to 200 deg F, hope The Husband gets home from dog-walk soon, to start grill. Re-read recipe for gratin, and see that veggies need to sit for moisture removal for lengthy period-oops forgot that, better get started.
Summer Vegetable Gratin (from America’s Test Kitchen, Season 9, Grilled Rack of Lamb Dinner)
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound zucchini, ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 1 pound summer squash (yellow), ends trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 2 teaspoons table salt
- 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (3 to 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thin pole to pole (about 3 cups)
- 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 large slice white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium shallots, minced (about 1/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Shoot, I want to blog this dish, gotta photograph all the ingredients before I get going.
Now, preheat the oven to 400 deg F-oh, the ribs are in there at 200, so I guess I’ll wait. Sliced squashes get tossed in salt, and left in a colander over a bowl for 45 min, to release at least 3 T of liquid. Tomatoes get sliced, laid out on paper towels, salted and left for 30 min. Onions get sliced pole to pole, and sauteed in olive oil, salt, and pepper until soft, brown, and sweet.
Squash gets pressed and dried under paper towels, same with tomatoes. Onions all yummy-looking in pan, off heat. Time to assemble the gratin. In a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
I don’t know about you, but I only have one 13 x 9 inch baking dish, and it has ribs in it in the oven. I have other baking dishes, of varying sizes, but only one 13 x 9. I decide to use a slightly larger, rather than smaller, dish, because I know the liquid in the vegetables will need to evaporate for this gratin to work.
I brush my larger baking dish with oil, toss the squashes with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, pepper and thyme (by the way, if you are ever in the kitchen saying to yourself, I can’t make anything tasty or wonderful today, make this oil mixture-its aroma will make you feel like a culinary superhero), and arrange the slices in the dish. Top with the caramelized onions, the sliced tomatoes, and more of the oil mixture. Husband has arrived home, ribs temp has been taken with another less-than-instant-read thermometer, and they are already done. No grilling tonight, this recipe will have to wait. Cover ribs with foil. Turn up oven to 400 so gratin can go in.
The ice cream is still in the freezer.
Thankfully, only the edges are firming up, so I finish the custard base with some mint extract and green food coloring, and into the churn it goes. It tastes divinely sweet, and is as smooth as silk. Unreal. I add mini chocolate chips toward the end of churning.
The gratin goes in, and when it comes out it looks like this:
Then you top it with a mixture of bread crumbs, cheese, oil, and shallots, while you heat the oven to 450 deg F. Back in for 10 min, and it looks like this:
While that’s happening, the ice cream is ready to be put in the freezer in a square baking dish I’ve previously frozen, to finish its freezing. Quickly. Breathe.
Dinner was ribs (still tasty with their spice rub, and an improvised glaze from red currant jam and rhubarb glaze, and time in the oven at 450 after the gratin came out), corn on the cob, and veggie gratin. The gratin was really good, with tender, but not sloshy squash, sweet tartness of the tomatoes, and crisp/crunch saltiness of the topping, but what really makes this dish great is the layer of caramelized onions. They add a creaminess and deep sweetness to the whole combination. Ratatouille-like, but without the earthy flavors of the eggplant that add heaviness to the dish.
The Boy had ice cream (still soft serve) for dessert, marveling at its smooth, creamy texture and sweeter flavor (he may have been detecting the vanilla bean-not usually featured in my homemade mint-chocolate chip ice cream), while The Husband and I finished the Queen of Sheba Cake.
I will be buying a new instant-read thermometer today.
See you on down the Road.