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."
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.
- 8 to 10 baby or small yellow squash and zucchini (or 3 medium-sized) sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
- 6 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
- 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves only
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
- 3 tablespoons crème fraîche
- 2 slices of good whole-wheat toast, crumbled
- 3/4 cup grated Swiss and Manchego cheese, mixed together
- Freshly ground pepper
What's your favorite way to cook zucchini and summer squash? Tell us in the comments below!