Gratins are quintessential Wine Harvest food. Good value ingredients come together to make something deliciously sustaining with results greater than the sum of their parts. Do you know anyone who doesn't love a gratin? Browned on top, crispy, crunchy round the edges, they stimulate the gastric juices.
Courgettes to some, zucchini to others, these are adaptable vegetables, widely and cheaply available during the summer and early autumn. Catch them while they are small if you can. Anyone who has ever grown courgettes knows that they have a habit of getting away from you in a burst of growth; hiding under their prolific leaves, you may find you have a cuckoo in the nest, or, rather, a very large marrow. Good luck with that! Stuffed marrow, anyone? Cookbooks from the 1950s are full of recipes to try and make these big beasts palatable. They develop tough skins, and flesh which is watery and lacking in any known flavour. (Perhaps you can tell I grew up eating this economical but not very nice dish). Once prized at horticultural shows, gardeners strove to produce the biggest marrow, which were certainly not the best from the cook's point of view.
FOR 4 - 6 PEOPLE
(depending on whether served alone or accompanying a meat or fish)
500g (1 lb) courgettes (zucchini) 1 tablespoon butter
150 ml (5 fl oz) milk salt and black pepper 90 g (3 oz) grated cheese (Gruyère, Cheddar or other hard cheese)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 350°F, 180°C.
Butter a gratin dish.
Wash and slice the courgettes. Put them in a saucepan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan (larger courgettes can give off a a lot of water, so take this into account) and a lump of butter. Simmer uncovered until just cooked, aprox. 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together in a bowl large enough to take the courgettes as well, the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and grated cheese, keeping back a little of the cheese. Add the courgettes to the bowl, stir and tip all into the gratin dish. Smooth the top, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and bake in the preheated oven until the egg mixture has set and the top browned, 15 to 20 minutes.