Friday, July 20, 2012

Zucchini Tomato Gratin

I haven't met very many snooty foodies. I actually, haven't met very many foodies. Sure, I see them on TV, read about them in magazines, and look at their cookbooks. Acting like they are too good for the ingredients available at the grocery store, and implying that everyone should be able to drop $120 on lobster to mix into some pasta for a summer lunch. They throw around phrases nobody understands, and flaunt French like they were born doing it. It's fun to watch for a little while, then it starts getting old. I love reading about food, different cultures, and how food brings people together. I don't, however, love reading about surfers and chefs summering at their beach houses, catching fresh fish and foraging for wild herbs in a weekend vacation that would have paid to feed half the population in Cambodia. I believe in efficiency in the kitchen. That means I am not going to spend $25 on a random ingredient just because a celebrity chef acts like I can't live without it.
Don't get me wrong. I am a foodie. I read everything I can get my hands on about food. Not about celebrity chefs,
their partners, and their kitchens. Not about huge parties that football players-turned chefs throw for VIPs. Not about vacations that clothing designers take, or the $400 lunch somebody makes for six friends.
This all reminds me of that scene in Gone with the Wind. Scarlett dresses up from head to toe to make Rhett think she's not poor. I feel like we are overdoing it, trying to pretend like the country isn't going through a difficult economic time. I don't think we need to whine about it, but we might try to be a little conscious.
Back to you.
Snooty Non-Foodies.
More than snooty foodies, I have met a lot of snooty non-foodies. Somehow, you hold your nose in the air because you don't cook. I am not really sure how that works. I think, perhaps, you feel like if you act like you don't care about it, you won't be embarrassed that you don't know what beurre blanc is. There's no reason for that. Nobody knows it all, even though quite a few of us act like we do. You can cook. You can make delicious dishes at home, and you probably know a lot about all this foodie stuff, but you just don't know the terminology.
Let me just say something. I have heard a lot of excuses for not cooking, and I would like to refute a few of them.
1. Not enough time. If you have enough time to drive to McDonald's, wait in the drive through, and bring it home and eat it, you have enough time to make dinner. From scratch. It takes the same amount of time to make Hamburger Helper as it does to make a delicious dinner. From scratch. You don't have to rely on boxes or packages to provide your family with a meal.
2. Too expensive. What most people don't realize is that it is actually cheaper to cook from scratch. Anytime you buy partially prepared food you are paying for it. I spend far less than the average house our size. Getting into the habit of planning meals, preparing ahead, and making grocery lists will really help you.
3. I don't know how. It is not that difficult, and I will help you with step by step directions, as if you have never cooked a thing in your life. I might even throw some pictures in there.

 Now, for a recipe. This is a great summer dish because it uses things we have in abundance during these months. Zucchini, and tomatoes. If you have a friend with a garden you probably have both of these things sitting on the counter, wondering if you are going to use them. This is a perfect side dish for any dinner, and you can throw it in the oven while you make a meat. Easy as that.

Zucchini Tomato Gratin
3 zucchinis, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
3 tomatoes, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
3 Tablespoons butter
3 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped (dried is ok)
Salt and pepper 
3 Tablespoons Parmesan
1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmasan
3 Tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter or spray a 8x8 square baking dish, preferably glass. Lay down a layer of zucchini, then tomatoes. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 Tablespoon of Parmesan, and 1 teaspoon oregano over the tomatoes. Slice off a few thin slices of the butter (not the melted one) and lay 3 or 4 on top of that. Top with another layer of zucchini and tomatoes, salt, pepper, Parmesan, oregano and butter. If you have more zucchini or tomatoes, add that now, in a final layer. Combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the top of the zucchini and tomatoes. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center easily pierces all the way through.

The zucchini is still a bit crunchy, but the tomatoes are very soft. The two together, I think, are just perfect. If you would prefer your zucchini cooked more, slice the tomatoes a bit thicker, and the zucchini a bit thinner.
Note: If you decide to make a larger quantity, be sure to cover the dish until the last 20-30 minutes of cooking so the topping doesn't burn.

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