Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Making the most of the long side of winter.

(In this post - Zuchinni, Bell Pepper, and Tomato Gratin with Parmesan Cheese and Bread Crumbs. Scroll to bottom for recipe.)

I know we're all dreaming of wearing bathing suits and flip flops right now. I personally can't even look in the mirror lately, as the sight of my paleness makes me jump out of my shoes. I'm almost translucent. However, my guess is these random bouts of above average temperatures in NYC are just a practical joke on Mother Nature's part, so we shouldn't get too excited. (Can you tell I'm a pessimist?)

But in the meantime, we can pull out those winter recipes we haven't gotten around to making yet. This is one of my favorites. It's a simple vegetable gratin that lacks the heavy cream and dragging weight of too much cheese that other gratins have (bikinis are on the horizon after all.) The olive oil and oven also magically 'perk up' any veggies lacking their summer oomph.

Serve it with a lean protein and a nice bottle of wine, and remember that before too long, we'll all be bitching about the heat;)

Zuchinni, Bell Pepper and Tomato Gratin with Parmesan and Bread Crumbs
Serves 4-5 as a side dish.

1 zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 yellow summer squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
1 large ripe tomato, cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
4 tablespoons dried Italian-style bread crumbs, divided
Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease the bottom of an 8 by 8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Line with a layer of the sliced zuchinni. Sprinkle over a small pinch of salt and pepper to season. Add a layer of yellow bell pepper, spacing the slices out evenly, then a layer of the red bell pepper. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs then drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil evenly over the top. Add a layer of the summer squash, then the tomato slices. Sprinkle over the rest of the bread crumbs, the Parmesan, and finally the rest of the olive oil. Finish with a tiny bit of fresh cracked pepper and place in the oven for 55 minutes, or until top is golden brown and veggies are bubbling (you can crank up the heat for the last ten minutes to brown, if necessary, but don't rush the cooking time or the veggies won't have reached their maximum potential.) Remove from the oven and sprinkle over some leaves of fresh basil, then allow to cool/set for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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