…Gratin, that is.
Per Summer’s request, and reconstructed/revamped from memory from Deborah Madison’s excellent Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone cookbook:
Summer Squash and Rice Gratin
Serves 6-8; leftovers are delicious.
Takes a long time (and every pan in the kitchen) to make, but it’s really quite worth it.
1.5 cups long-grain rice (you can cook this ahead of time and set aside)
1.5 to 2 lbs fresh summer squash
3 shallots, diced small
1 medium onion
3 or 4 cloves garlic
Four or five healthy stems of fresh flat-leafed parsley
Two or three healthy stems of fresh basil
3 cups milk
3 dried bay leaves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
8 Tbsp butter, divided
6 Tbsp flour
0.75 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Bring rice, a generous sprinkling of salt and 2 cups water to boil in a medium saucepan; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes; then turn off heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before removing rice to a very large bowl to cool. (This, BTW, is my 100% no-fail recipe for Really Good Rice every time. Except for the cooling part.)
While rice cooks, you will need to do some fancy footwork to manage the next two steps: prepping the squash and starting the sauce. Combine milk, bay leaves and 2 diced shallots in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until it comes to a simmer. DO NOT LET IT BOIL! It will make an incredible mess, and it won’t taste quite as nice as it would have otherwise. (Guess what I let happen last night?) When milk begins to simmer, immediately turn off heat and let steep for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, back at the cutting board, shred or grate zucchini coarsely. A food processor will handle this in a jiffy, but it’s pretty fast with an old-fashioned box grater too. Place in a colander, toss with a teaspoon or so of salt and leave in the sink to drain.
Now strip the leaves from the parsley and basil. Chop smallish, but don’t mince. Combine in bowl with rice. Occupy the remaining wait time by dicing the onion and mincing the garlic.
Fifteen minutes should have passed by now; time to make the bechamel. First, strain the milk to remove the aromatics (I just pour it through a slotted spoon into a mixing bowl). Melt 6 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat in a medium to large saute pan (but not your largest; you’ll need that for the zucchini). Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for a few minutes until the mixture smells toasty and the color deepens a bit. Whisk in the milk all at once. It will look like a horrible lumpy mess at first; but only persevere, whisking, and it will eventually smooth out into a thick and sturdy and deliciously creamy whole. Whisk in the ground nutmeg plus a very generous amount of salt and pepper. You could even throw in a few red pepper flakes, were you feeling saucy. Place over very, very low heat (or, if you don’t yet have enough dirty pans to wash, place in a double boiler) and simmer, re-whisking frequently, while you deal with the zucchini.
Wrap zucchini in a large, clean kitchen towel; fold towel closed, hold over sink and squeeze with all your might to get rid of excess moisture. You really want the squash as dry as you can get it; it will make the cooking process much faster.
Heat your widest saute pan over medium heat; melt butter. (Now is also an excellent time to begin preheating the oven: 350 degrees is good.) Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until just translucent. Add garlic and cook and stir one minute more. Add zucchini and cook, stirring regularly, until pan is quite dry and zucchini is beginning to brown. This should take 7 to 10 minutes and will give you ample time to lightly grease a baking pan (a regular 9×13 will work, or you can use a pretty oval ceramic pan).
When zucchini is done, fold it into the bowl with the herbs and the rice, along with half the bechamel sauce. Taste and correct seasoning. Spread rice mixture evenly into baking pan.
Stir Parmesan into remaining sauce. Dollop over top of rice mixture and smooth out (but not too smooth–you’re going for a rustic look here) with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until just bubbling at edges. (This is an excellent time to repair to the front porch with a cocktail while someone who is not you comes in and clears away the mess.) I discovered yesterday that turning on the broiler for the last minute or so produces a lovely browned effect, albeit one which is completely optional.
This holds together remarkably nicely when served; you don’t need to do the usual let-it-stand thing. Serve with a green salad and plenty of wine.