Gratin Expectations and a Bonus Salsa

Layered summer squash with cheese and homemade tomatillo salsa = mmmm.

We have a crew of friends, creatively referred to as the “Brunch Bunch,” who get together almost every month for… what else?… brunch. It’s always potluck-style, and it’s always replete with lotsa mimosas (usually feat. champagne by the talented winemakers over at Cook’s and/or Andre).

This last Sunday, my friend Melissa observed: “Usually you’ll go to a potluck at someone’s house and there will be Ruffles and crap like that. Not with this crew. You don’t show up unless you have good food.”

Does that make us food snobs? If so, then I am totally bringing Ruffles to the next get-together. Regardless, at this brunch, we enjoyed Melissa’s pumpkin bread, Matt and Eliese’s sausage strata, Laura and Mark’s corn cakes with avocado sauce, Angel’s roasted vegetable quiche/galette, Rachel’s sourdough pancakes, et cetera, et cetera… and this summer squash gratin with fresh tomatillo salsa.

This is the first year I’ve grown tomatillos, and apparently they have no objection to Portland’s schizophrenic summer weather. Had I known they would do so well under my indifferent gardening supervision, I would’ve planted three times as many. As it is, I don’t think I’ll have quite enough to can, alas.

Tomatillo salsa is incredibly versatile and easy to make. It’s great in (or on) enchiladas, drizzled over carnitas, or served in a big bowl all by itself. This recipe is a pretty faithful rendition of Rick Bayless’ recipe from Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, the only Mexican cookbook one should ever really need.

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
Makes about 3 cups

1 pound tomatillos, papery husks removed, washed
2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, depending on your heat tolerance/the peppers’ innate heat, stemmed
About 1 cup of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp salt, give or take

Bring about a quart of salted water to a boil. Add the tomatillos and cook until barely tender, probably 6 to 8 minutes, depending on their size. Drain and place in the bowl of a food processor (or jar of a blender).

While the tomatillos are cooking, prep the jalapenos: Seed them if you fear heat; leave the seeds in if heat is cool with you; roughly chop; add to food processor or blender along with cilantro, onion and salt.

Process or blend in several short pulses until mixture is rendered into a coarse puree. You may need to scrape down the sides occasionally, especially if using a blender.

If serving as a fresh salsa, stir in a quarter cup or so of water. Set aside and allow flavors to mellow/marry/mature for about 30 minutes before serving. (If using in another dish, don’t worry about this last step.)

When you’ve got plenty of salsa on hand, go ahead and turn it into something yummy like

Summer Squash and Salsa Gratin
Mostly from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Grease a gratin dish or other baking dish with 1 Tbsp or so oil (I prefer peanut oil).

Slice four zucchini (or so) into thin coins. Cook them, preferably by roasting, though steaming would also be OK. Pat them thoroughly dry afterwards if you steam them.

Grate enough cheese–I used a mixture of medium Cheddar and Monterey Jack–to equal three cups.

Layer ingredients in pan in this order: zucchini, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, some salsa, some cheese, zucchini, more S&P, more salsa, the last of the cheese.

Smash up some tortilla chips (or, heck, Ruffles!) and sprinkle them over the top. Toast some pumpkin seeds (pepitas!) in a dry skillet and sprinkle them over the top too.

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes, or until cheese is melty and bubbly and beginning to brown.

About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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3 Responses to Gratin Expectations and a Bonus Salsa

  1. Kendra says:

    I don’t think it makes you food snobs, but it IS intimidating. I skipped one because I couldn’t/didn’t want to cook real food, bailed on one at the last minute because I made something that wasn’t that good, brought a plant to one, and now don’t get invited. I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m not foodie enough, but I’d actually be happier if it were. (cuz I just can’t accept that I’m no fun at parties…..) Perhaps if I’d start making some of these yummy-looking recipes, my foodie status would improve!

  2. Amy So says:

    I was just reading through some old blog entries and found a few comments from you and I thought “hey, I wonder if Molly knows I miss her?” and then I came to your blog, and this title made me giggle because tonight at work someone asked me where they could find “Greatest Expectings or maybe it’s called Greater Expectations?”

    At any rate, I think food snobbery has everything to do with your experience in the kitchen. As you learn more and try more things you discover what is and isn’t worth the time and the calories. It isn’t so much snobbery as perspective. Like…probably a dumb example, but I am a total rice snob. I confess: I think Minute Rice should be illegal. If that makes me a food snob (or just a rice snob) so be it! 😉

    Hope you are well!

  3. AprilA says:

    Those tomatillos are gorgeous. On my list to grow next year!

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