Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

I’m mostly settled into my new apartment after an incredibly effortful weekend of plans and rearrangements and finishing touches. I’m actually sore, which is really embarrassing, and speaks to my otherwise level of inactivity for the past few weeks. My grandparents were here this weekend to help me finalize some things, namely things involving a drill and furniture building. And excitingly, my grandma, in her perfectly grandmotherly ways, brought me an entire picnic basket of fresh vegetables from her and her brothers’ gardens. Squash, zucchini, potatoes, green beans, beautiful tomatoes all rested comfortably together, simply begging for some preparation and timely enjoyment.

On Saturday night, around 7pm, in a hunger-driven panic between Ikea trips and unloading of said Ikea trips and putting together of said Ikea products, I scarfed down half a slice of leftover pizza and a few cookies my grandma had also brought me. I ate said dinner in approximately 3 minutes, while refilling my silverware drawer, and, following this ingestion, realized I thankfully was no longer hungry, so I went upon my way. As things go, my house became a swarm of cardboard and cellophane before becoming marginally more cohesive. Around 11pm I fainted onto my (thankfully) put together daybed, recognized that I was famished, ate some Pringles leftover from last weekend’s bachlorette party, and went to bed.  Needless to say, my first “meals” in this apartment have not been very notable. Or admirable. Or even really food.

Today, I eased into the morning with a nice walk, some reading, coffee, and breakfast. A leisure I haven’t taken in way, way too long. Afternoon involved some more apartment work for a few hours, followed by some cleaning, but today I was going to be put together. Or, at least not eat Pringles for dinner. The vegetables stared at me, quietly reminding me that produce is really only “fresh” for so long. I whipped up a zucchini bread during afternoon projects, which turned out deliciously. However, I for the second time witnessed my oven cooking at clearly far too low a temperature, for while the bread was cooked through to the tip of the toothpick I stabbed it with, a quarter inch of batter-becoming-bread thwarted my product. In plans for dinner, I questioned that I was using the oven again at all. Completely archaic, without a clock, timer, or evidence that digital technology had actually been established at the time of its construction, I could indeed verify it lit and made the oven warm, but I could not know at all at which temperature it was cooking. Given this was my third attempt, I ramped up the temperature even further above recommendation, and, amazingly, dinner turned out beautifully. (Also idiotic, I spent at least 2 hours of today with the oven on, in summer, in an apartment without air conditioning. I’ve been lightly sweating (or profusely so) for 48 hours).

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Breakfast of my dreams: toast with garden tomatoes and over easy eggs, side of French press coffee

So, what did I make? Well, to use in a timely fashion the bountiful summer produce my grandma had provided, I found a recipe for a gratin comprised of summer squash and potatoes. I figured adding a few extra squash would only improve upon the product, and I followed the recipe nearly exactly, exchanging some of the methods here and there to suit my new kitchen. I had no intention of blogging about the final result, because I was moderately convinced I’d retrieve from the oven a soggy, undercooked mess of vegetables. But, as you can clearly tell, it was a huge success! These pictures don’t do justice to the absolute delicious nature of this dish. I already plan to serve this at Thanksgiving, bring it to book club, and somehow offer it to everyone I know. Really. And, better, everything in here is peak-season-perfect. Please, please make this (mom, it’s right up your alley). And for any goat cheese haters (you’re absurd), you could substitute another cheese if you wish.

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Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 6… I guess (serves me tops 4 times)

2 medium zucchini

2 medium yellow crookneck squash

1 medium yellow squash

3 medium red potatoes

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. freshly-cracked pepper

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 oz. goat cheese

1/3 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (or 425 if you have an ancient oven).

Wash and dry your vegetables thorougly. Start by slicing the potatoes very thinly, about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thickness, taking time to make sure the slices are even. Add the sliced potatoes to a pot of salted water (I add about a 1/2 teaspoon). Bring the water to a boil and boil the potatoes for about 2 minutes, so that they are still firm. Drain the potatoes and add to a large bowl.

Continue slicing the remaining squash (you can use any combination of varieties; this is just what I had on hand) into thin, 1/4 – 1/8 inch thin slices. If you have a mandolin, that’d be great (I don’t). Add the sliced vegetables to the same large bowl. Pour 4 tbsp. olive oil over the vegetables as well as the salt, pepper, and thyme. Gently toss the vegetables to coat (some may break apart a bit, which is fine).

Lightly grease a large, 9 x 13 baking dish with olive oil, and add 1/3 of the vegetable mixture to the dish. Crumble half the goat cheese over the bottom layer of vegetables. Add another 1/3 of the mixture, and, again, top with the remaining goat cheese. Add the final layer of vegetables. Pour the milk evenly over the entire mixture. Sprinkle the top of the vegetables with Parmesan. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven.

Bake the dish at 400 degrees Fahrenheit covered for 30-35 minutes. Afterwards, remove the foil and increase the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the Parmesan cheese top is bubbling and brown. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.

To serve, slice out a portion of the gratin (it slices fairly easily, although will slide around some). Sprinkle torn or chiffonade basil over the top. Wait 2 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth, then dig in.

Longest post ever. Worth it.

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Caramelized Onion, Sun-dried Tomato, and Goat Cheese Quiche

Quiche. Oh my god, quiche. I love quiche. It is astoundingly underrated. For instance, when you go to brunch, what do you have swimming in your head, what options are you fanning through mentally? Omelet, egg scramble, french toast, pancakes, eggs benedict, fresh juice, eggs-in-a-basket, biscuits and gravy… the classics. But as you frustratingly toy between deciding sweet or savory (eventually just going for the huge breakfast platter that combines both), quiche is just sitting there on the side, being absurdly perfect, waiting for you to remember. Quiche isn’t offered at every restaurant or brunch place. It’s a little bit “fancy,” and it may only be available at your delicious-yet-kind-of-hipster/trendy neighborhood haunt. (I can think specifically of my favorite brunch place in the city- Birchwood Kitchen- with their quiches sitting poised atop a glass cabinet of salads and baked goods). So it’s fair that it’s not a regular go-to when you’re sitting down for brunch on a Sunday morning at 11am. But I am here to fight for it. Fight for its representation. Because, guys, it’s basically PIE filled with EGGS. With fillings that are delightful and usually perfectly fresh and almost always healthy yet delicious.

So you can’t get it out all the time, or maybe you still insist that you can’t make french toast at home (eh hem, you can), but there’s no reason not to delight in the wonder that is quiche when the craving hits. (It’s actually hitting you right now, you just don’t remember). There is a crust to quiche, and I personally am annoyed when Pinterest links and Internet sites quote recipes for “crustless quiches,” because those totally already exist, everyone; they’re called frittatas, and they are too delicious, in their own way. But making a crust can scare people away, moreso than even French toast or pancakes from scratch. If you have 5 minutes, a rolling pin, and butter and flour, you can make pie crust. It’s even easier in a food processor, but absolutely not necessary. If you were to be making an actual fancy pie, I’m certain there would be more crust rules. But you’re making a brunch item. This just needs to taste good.

Now, the second part of quiche that has people worried is the filling. What should you put inside there!? Eggs, obviously, but the additional components and flavor combinations are endless. It’s at least as expansive as the variety afforded to omelets, but with the benefit of not compromising the tedious and delicate cooking process of preparing an omelet. I like things to be relatively simple, in the interest of highlighting genuine flavors, and am a huge sucker for caramelized onions all the time. The beauty of these ingredients (which are listed below) is that they are available and delicious at any time of the year. If it’s summer and you would prefer to highlight the bounty of summer vegetables then available, by all means do so. But this quiche is a good staple and a good place to start.

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Caramelized Onion, Sun-dried Tomato, and Goat Cheese Quiche

Serves 6

Crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or a 50/50 ratio of all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 tbsp./ 1 stick/ 1/4 lb. of unsalted butter, cold and diced
  • 3-6 tbsp. ice water, reserved

Filling

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • Salt & pepper to season, to taste
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk, anything but skim
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 oz. (about 1/4 cup) goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a 9-inch pie pan by coating it thinly with butter and set aside.

Begin by preparing the filling. In a medium sauté pan, over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. olive oil and the sliced yellow onions. Cook until lightly browning and softened, about 15 minutes. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, mix, and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

To make the crust, mix the flour(s) and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cold and diced butter, and, using your fingertips, mix the butter into the flour. The butter should gradually breakdown to pea-sized pieces, and the whole mixture will look almost sandy with small clumps. Then, slowly add the ice water, starting with 3 tbsp. then adding by 1/2-1 tbsp. as needed. Mix the water into the flour mixture with your hands until evenly distributed. You should continue to add water until you have a shaggy dough that forms the shape of your first when you squeeze it and just stays together in a small ball. Pour the dough out onto a floured surface or counter (there should be some dry scraggly bits) and mold into a flat disc. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a circle about 2-3 inches wider in diameter than the pie pan. The dough will likely break a bit as you roll it out, but just push the broken pieces back together. The easiest way to transfer the dough to the pie pan is to roll it onto the rolling pin and then unroll it over the pan. Press the crust dough into the pan, consolidating the dough at the edges to form an even, slightly thickened ridge elevated about 1/2 an inch above the edge of the pan. Your dough will likely be an uneven circle, so just transfer pieces as needed to more “thin” areas. From here, you can flute the edges of the dough if you want, or just leave it as is. To flute the crust, indent the crust from the outside with the pointer finger of your right hand against the counter-pressure of your thumb and pointer finger of your left hand, making a triangle of dough, essentially. Go around the entire crust that way. It won’t look perfect. That’s fine.

Once the dough is complete, add your vegetables. Ideally, you should have about 2 cups of vegetables in your quiche with a standard pie pan (if your pan is deeper, you may want to amp up the veggies by another cup or so). Whisk together the eggs, milk, and 1/2 tsp. of salt and pour over the veggies. Scoot the veggies around some if needed so everything is evenly distributed. Top the filling with goat cheese, sprinkling it evenly over the quiche.

Place the quiche in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, until the center is set (the eggs shouldn’t wiggle or jiggle in the pan, but rather look quite firm and fluffy). Remove the quiche to cool slightly, for about 10 minutes, and serve.

 

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Delicious, buttery pie crust, with creamy eggs and the burst of sweet then savory then cheesy flavor. Make a quiche next time. Please.

Tuna and Mushroom Casserole

It’s finally warming up in Chicago, and by that I mean walking the line of below- and above-freezing, but it feels like Spring in Chiberia (colloquial internet term applicable for the next 15 minutes). And now, of course, I want pasta again. I never said my cravings were logical. It is still rather cold, so eating these kind of heavy comfort foods definitely satisfies in that deep, nap-producing way. In fact, I think I’ve mistakenly taken a nap every time I’ve eaten this meal. So, I guess this bears warning: do not eat pasta casseroles unless you can theoretically take a nap afterwards. My mom is probably noticing immediately that I’m reproducing a classic weeknight meal growing up: Tuna Noodle (Meddle, per our pronunciation) Casserole. It’s a midwestern classic, pairing up a bunch of I-always-have-this canned foods and egg pasta. And while the mid-century recipe of course provided my inspiration, I couldn’t help but elevate this to a from-scratch, vegetable-heavy modern version with a little more flavor and a little less sodium. It takes longer, though, so I’m definitely not knocking the original prep, which I believe was mostly dump, stir, microwave, bake. I promise preparing from scratch is worth it, though, and certainly not overly labor intensive. We’ll see if I can convince anyone in my family to go at it the “hard” way.

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Tuna and Mushroom Casserole

Serves 4-6

8 oz. whole wheat egg noodles

1 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced

16 oz. white and cremini mushrooms, sliced

2 cups spinach

1/2 tsp. dried parsley

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

1/4 cup flour

1 can tuna, ideally sustainably caught, drained

1 cup milk

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup breadcrumbs (or crushed crackers if you want to stick with the classics)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, usually about 7-10 minutes. Undercook the pasta by a minute or two to maintain texture after baking. Once pasta is cooked, set aside.

In a large and deep oven-safe saute pan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and saute until softened, browning, and releasing their juices, about 5-10 minutes longer. Add spinach and seasonings and mix. Toss 1/4 cup of flour over the vegetable mixture and stir until incorporated and no longer visible, about 1-2 minutes. Mix the milk and stock together and pour over the vegetables, using a rubber spatula to loosen the browning bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the liquids to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until thickened, about 5-10 minutes (we’re aiming for cream of mushroom soup consistency). Once thickened, add tuna and stir until fully incorporated.

Add the pasta to the vegetables and tuna. Spread the pasta mixture evenly throughout the pan and sprinkle breadcrumbs or crushed crackers on top. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Scoop into bowls and serve hot, being careful not to burn yourself on the pan handle, which I definitely did. Caution aside, this is the kind of food best eaten on the couch in your pajamas, so that when you’re finished, you can easily slip into nap position. It may be warm and heavy, but laden with as many vegetables as noodles, it’s pretty healthy nonetheless. It’s also horribly not photogenic, but don’t judge; it was good sustenance for our grandparents, and it’s good enough for me (and you, Brian).