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Summer garden gratin
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Summer garden gratin

Mention a "gratin," and most of us will think of a hearty, sizzling dish loaded with cream and cheese, more of a robust winter dinner than anything suited for steamy summer evenings.

But here's a gratin with a difference: Colorful and healthy, composed almost entirely of fresh produce from the summer garden atop a ration of "ear"-shaped orecchiette pasta, it could serve as a side dish for a banquet, but works as well as a light vegetarian main course for a summer dinner. It qualifies as a gratin because it's topped with bits of cheese browned quickly under the broiler, but it's a far cry from the heavy, creamy winter version.

It's easy to put together in well under an hour, and it seems like it would have been just as good reheated for another day ... if we had the will power to leave any.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1/2 large sweet yellow or white onion, enough to make about 1 cup when sliced thin
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
Dried red-pepper flakes
4 fresh, ripe tomatoes, enough to make about 2 cups chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1 small head broccoli
1 small head cauliflower
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 ounces orecchiette or other short pasta
1 to 2 ounces mild goat cheese or feta


1. Slice the onion and garlic thin. Cut the tomatoes into large dice (I like to squeeze out and discard the tomato seeds, but there's no real need to peel them since they will only be heated briefly, not fully cooked.) Put the tomatoes in a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste plus the rinsed capers, cumin and cinnamon.

2. Start salted water boiling in one pan for pasta and in another for the cauliflower and broccoli. Preheat broiler to high. When the vegetable water boils, simmer the cauliflower for about 15 minutes, adding the broccoli about 7 minutes later so it won't overcook.

3. While the vegetables are simmering, boil the pasta as the package directs or until al dente (about 10 to 12 minutes for orecchiette).

4. Heat the olive oil in a skillet or sautee pan and add the onions, stirring until they're soft and translucent. Add the garlic and dried red-pepper flakes (just a taste, not enough to make the dish fiery) and cook until the garlic is soft and aromatic. Stir in the tomatoes, capers and spices, then immediately take off heat.

5. Drain the pasta and put it in the bottom of a lightly oiled glass casserole dish. Pour the onion and tomato mixture over it. Drain the cauliflower and broccoli and arrange them on top. Sprinkle on the lemon juice and balsamic, and garnish with bits of crumbled goat cheese or feta. Place the dish under the broiler just until the cheese melts and starts to brown.

MATCHING WINE: Call it a cliche, but I love snappy, fruity Italian reds with tomato-based dishes. The wine's fresh acidity and fruit makes a natural flavor match with the tart sweetness of juicy, ripe tomatoes. A Chianti would have been fine, but I was just as pleased with the Valpolicella look-alike featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor, Masi 2000 "Modello" Rosso delle Venezie ($8.99). For my tasting note, see

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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: "Burgundian" chicken with onions (July 24)

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Thursday, Aug. 7, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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