It's that time of year when vegetables sneak up on you. Early in the summer, squash, eggplant and peppers are a mere hint in the garden, peeking out from their blossoms, while in the market they are just becoming available in small amounts for a steep price. These early season purchases are a little premature, a bit too eager and cost too much for something you know will soon be abundant.
Then, before you can say, "ratatouille," it's the end of the summer, and zucchini, eggplant and peppers are teeming everywhere. The garden is lobbing them at you like tennis balls, and the market shelves are stacked with a vibrant cornucopia of Provencal vegetables, providing eye candy ripe and ready for consumption. With such a bounty, it's important to be creative, because, ironically, it's easy to tire of this abundance at the end of the season -- and that would be a shame. So, I was determined to use my imagination to celebrate this end-of-summer bounty. Turning to the tried-and-true ratatouille for inspiration, I made this gratin.
It's super-simple and relatively light as far as gratins go. Layered with vegetables and basil and sprinkled with mild goat cheese, it's delicious served warm or at room temperature.
Try to choose squash and eggplant of a similar diameter. This recipe makes enough for an 8- to 9-inch square or round pan. Alternatively, you can arrange the vegetables in smaller, individual gratin dishes.
Ratatouille Gratin With Goat Cheese and Basil
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 narrow eggplant, about 10 ounces
1 medium zucchini, about 6 ounces
1 medium yellow squash, about 6 ounces
1 large red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
Olive oil to coat the tray and dish, and to brush the vegetables
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn into 1/2-inch pieces, plus extra for garnish
3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
Preheat the oven broiler.
Slice the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash crosswise about 1/3 inch thick. (If the eggplant is much wider than the squash, quarter lengthwise and slice 1/3 inch thick.)
Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, squash and pepper in one layer on an oiled baking tray. Brush the tops with additional oil and lightly season with salt and black pepper. Broil on the top shelf of the oven until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, and brown in spots, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once. Remove vegetables; let cool until they are cool to the touch.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8- or 9-inch square or round gratin dish. Arrange the vegetables, alternating and slightly overlapping, in rows or a circular pattern. Tuck the basil between the vegetables in a random pattern, so that it is evenly distributed. Scatter grape-size amounts of the goat cheese evenly over the vegetables.
Bake the gratin in the oven until the cheese is soft and lightly golden in spots, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with extra basil if desired.
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