Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Healthy Bell Pepper and Zucchini Gratin

You hear the word, “gratin,” and you immediately think of cheesy, creamy goodness, right? So do I, but I also think of all the fat and calories that go along with them. And what about the vegetables? Whether it’s a potato gratin or any other variety, the nutritious, delicious veggies are all but lost in the decadent mix.

The truth is, I pretty much never make gratins. I would rather have a side dish of roasted vegetables with salt, pepper and just a wee bit of olive oil. That doesn’t mean I am not willing to try something new. When I saw this recipe in the June issue of Cooking Light, I almost passed right over it. But because I’ve never really given up the hope of a luscious, healthy vegetable gratin, I skimmed over the recipe—no milk or cream in sight! Could it be any good? It sounded good, and this magazine does have a pretty healthy (no pun intended) track record.

So here it is, folks (after some tasty changes and simplifications from the original, of course): a moist, extremely flavorful gratin that tastes like something special even though the components and the technique couldn’t be more straightforward. I served this with the cumin and honey marinated lamb kabobs that I mentioned in the previous post. The gratin is great all by itself, but piled into homemade pita bread with the tender cubes of lamb and my garlic-yogurt sauce, it makes the meal.

Bell Pepper and Zucchini Gratin
Adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine

Substitutions are a natural in a dish like this. I omitted the yellow squash called for in the original recipe and used all zucchini. Yellow, red or orange bell peppers are all great, but I would stay away from the green ones if you can. I don’t think they are as sweet. My trick with this recipe is to brown the vegetables in a skillet to get some caramelization going instead of just tossing them into the oven raw—it pays off with great flavor.

Serves 4 to 6

Nonstick cooking spray
1 to 2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hungarian paprika
3 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup (packed) sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, patted dry with paper towels and thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
1 1/2 tbs. dried bread crumbs
2 tbs. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and coat a 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Coat a large skillet with half to one tablespoon of the oil and heat to medium-high. Add the bell peppers and cook for 3 minutes, then add the onions. Season with salt, pepper and paprika to taste. Continue to cook, stirring often until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned. Remove to a large bowl. Add another half to one tablespoon of oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the zucchini, stir well, and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Cook, stirring often until zucchini is lightly browned on both sides. Add to the bowl with the bell peppers, along with the thyme and sun-dried tomatoes, and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs and cheese together in a small bowl. Transfer the vegetables into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb-cheese mixture evenly over the top and bake for 20 minutes. Let the gratin rest for 5 minutes, then serve right away.

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Lydia said...

Yum! A gratin without cream! I like your idea of caramelizing the veggies first. Will definitely try this.

Mallika said...

This a very modern take on graton and I love the sound of it.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I should definitely give this a go, Julie - healthy food can and should be delicious, this is proof!

Kristen said...

What a great way to make a gratin. I have this issue of CL...I'll have to give it a try!