The term gratin, in French, originally referred to the tasty crust left behind in a pan after baking, which was scraped off and eaten as a bonus for the chef.
Now, cooking something au gratin can mean preparing a dish that is cooked from scratch in the oven, like a gratin dauphinoise made with potatoes and cream; or combining several cooked ingredients in casserole form, like a baked pasta dish.
A gratin is usually topped with grated sharp cheese and/or breadcrumbs. Adding just cream will also produce a lightly browned crust if baked in high heat. Technically, macaroni and cheese is a gratin, in that a protective crust forms while it bakes, giving it a lightly browned and crunchy topping, while keeping the rest of the dish moist.
Gratins are traditionally served straight from the dish.
The first au gratin dish I had ever tasted was Vegetable au gratin which is a family favourite. But strangely enough, I have not yet attempted this dish. I hope to try it out soon when winter commences as it will bring my favourite vegetables like peas and carrots available in abundance.
The other day, I had a lot of cooked rice leftover. So, I googled for recipes of baked dishes that had cooked rice as an ingredient. I was glad to come across several rice gratin recipes.
The original recipe in Epicurious.com uses Zucchini, but I added Bottle gourd instead as it is more readily available here in the local markets and also they do taste a tad similar.
Bottlegourd Rice Gratin
- 1/3 cup long-grain white rice
- 1 bottle gourd, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 6 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
- Preheat oven to 450°F/232°C with racks in upper and lower thirds.
- Cook the rice.
- While rice cooks, toss the bottle gourd slices with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a shallow baking pan. Toss tomatoes with 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in another baking pan.
- Roast the bottle gourd in the upper third of the oven and the tomatoes in lower third, turning vegetables once halfway through roasting, until tender and light golden, about 10 minutes for tomatoes; 20 minutes for bottle gourd. Leave oven on.
- Meanwhile, cook onion and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Stir together onion mixture, cooked rice, eggs, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread half of rice mixture in a shallow 2-quart baking dish, then top with half of zucchini. Spread remaining rice mixture over zucchini, then top with remaining zucchini. Top with tomatoes and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
- Bake in upper third of oven until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Now, isn’t that a great way to use up leftover cooked rice? I think I am making this often as I always have the ingredients available. And I do love gratins. I sure hope you do try out this recipe and let me know how it turned out for you.