On Saturday we hiked Fish Canyon Falls, over five miles of breathtaking trails lined with shady oaks, blue agaves, and multi-colored wildflowers carpeting the hillsides glowing with fragrant white sage, located in the Angeles National Forest just thirty minutes from our home. The winding path follows a clear stream, and because of the recent winter rains, it was rushing through the bottom of the canyon, creating a peaceful soundtrack of flowing water nearly the entire time. At the end of the trail, we were greeted by a majestic 3-tiered, 80-foot waterfall that was cascading in full force. It was a beautiful day and we were so happy to discover yet another hidden area of natural beauty so close to the city. After spending the morning hiking through the woods, stumbling upon abandoned cabins, and adventuring in the hills, we came home to find a package waiting for us on our doorstep that we had been anticipating for several months. Our friend Emilie (theclevercarrot.com) just wrote her first cookbook and we were so excited for its arrival, especially after seeing so many other bloggers making beautiful creations from it and posting photos and rave reviews online. Epicurious named The Clever Cookbook as one of “spring’s best cookbooks” and after browsing through this gem and making one dish so far, we clearly understand why. It is filled with inspiring recipes that we can’t wait to try: cauliflower bolognese, chai pancakes with cinnamon butter, banana cloud cake, and the list goes on! Today we are so excited to share this easy zucchini and brown rice gratin from her book that has graced our kitchen twice this week and has already become one of our new favorite dinners.
This delicious gratin is a fresh take on the classic baked casserole. Filled with tender brown rice, hand-tossed with creamy Fontina cheese and topped with juicy cherry tomatoes and thin slices of sautéed zucchini that curl and ruffle in the oven, it is sprinkled with a crispy parmesan breadcrumb topping that adds a beautiful golden color and delicate crunch. The buttery rice and cheese mixture has a rich flavor and irresistibly chewy texture that is complimented with tangy bursts of bright cherry tomatoes and tender zucchini in every bite. This recipe is thoughtfully written and all the ingredients compliment each other like soulmates. It is delicious in February, and we can’t wait until summer when we can make this with freshly-picked tomatoes from the garden.
Not only is The Clever Cookbook fun and easy to use, it is filled with gorgeous photography, great stories, and time-saving tips in the kitchen. This recipe is a perfect example of this. Since brown rice takes 45 minutes, Emilie suggests cooking it ahead of time, making the rest of the prep a breeze. Once the rice is pre-made, you can whip up this dinner in under 30 minutes! All you have to do is chop a a little onion, slice a zucchini, and grate some cheese, and you are ready to go. The onion and zucchini cook for under 5 minutes, and the gratin bakes in just 15, making this one of the quickest and most delicious dinners we know. We will certainly be making this hearty dish again and can’t wait to adventure our way through the rest of this charming and clever new cookbook.
Easy Zucchini and Brown Rice Gratin
adapted from The Clever Cookbook by Emilie Raffa
serves 4 to 6
For the gratin:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup (80g) diced onion
2 cups (226g) zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch thin slices (about 1 to 2 zucchini)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups (585g) cooked brown rice, cold or at room temperature (see note)
1 1/2 cups (162g) grated fontina cheese
1 cup (150g) cherry tomatoes, cut in half
For the topping:
2 tablespoons (10g) finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons (15g) Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Arrange your oven rack to be in the top third of the oven, and preheat to 425°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, and set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil together. Add the onions and cook until slightly softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the zucchini slices, toss to coat them evenly, and cook for 1 minute. Add the salt and pepper, stir to combine, and remove from heat.
Place the cooked rice and grated fontina in the prepared baking dish, and use your hands to gently mix them together, ensuring that they are evenly blended. Use a spoon to press the mixture evenly in the dish. Add the onion-zucchini mixture, and arrange the zucchini on top so they are evenly spaced. Tuck the cherry tomatoes in between the zucchini.
To make the topping, in a small bowl, combine the parmesan and breadcrumbs. Add the olive oil and stir to combine. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the gratin. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the broiler to 500°F, open the oven door slightly, and broil for 2 minutes until the top is golden brown. Let cool for 2 minutes before serving, and enjoy!
— The brown rice can be made up to a week in advance. One cup (190g) of raw brown rice will yield the correct amount for this recipe. To prepare the rice: combine 1 cup rice with 2 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat as low as possible, and cook for 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. When cooked, spread the rice on a cookie sheet to cool it quickly, then transfer it to a container or ziplock bag for storage.