Heirloom Recipes

A Creamy Gratin That'll Make a Zucchini Lover Out of Anyone

June 20, 2017

In the 1970s, my mother belonged to a gourmet cooking club. For a French-themed dinner, she chose to make a fish dish that called for crème fraîche. I had never heard of crème fraîche before and was intrigued. She made it from scratch, using a mixture of heavy cream and buttermilk. After it thickened and aged for a while, this crème fraîche was used in the topping for a delicate fillet of sole that was baked in the oven and was quite delicious.

After the success of this dish at the dinner party, my mother made it for a special dinner for our family. I must have liked it and remembered crème fraîche with some awe and anticipation of making it myself someday.

I don’t think I ever made crème fraîche or used it to cook, however, until many years later, when it kept showing up in recipes I was reading, and I began to experiment with how to use it in my kitchen endeavors.

One recipe that I invented is a zucchini gratin that everyone in my family seemed to love—including my husband, whose natural inclination is to avoid zucchini. A few years later, when my daughter Rebecca was completing her senior project on “Women in the Kitchen” for her women’s studies degree, she prepared this dish for a special dinner party to conclude the assignment. A brief write-up of this dish was listed in the booklet she put together to give to guests at the dinner party. I was quite honored to see it named “Mom’s Famous Zucchini Gratin."

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Years later, when Rebecca was living in Portland, she wanted to make this dish for her co-workers at the feminist bookstore, In Other Words. She called me up with an urgent request to remind her how to make it. As usual, the resulting dish was a great success. It always is!

And it’s the crème fraîche that does the trick.

What's your favorite way to cook zucchini and summer squash? Tell us in the comments below!

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I love food! I love to cook, eat, read about food, write about food, and enjoy meals with friends and family. I have been writing a food memoir for the past decade and am just about done! I epsecially love to create recipes using seasonal and local produce. I love to travel and wherever I go I shop at markets, cook, and try to take a cooking class.