Hello, friends! Today would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday, and I, along with hundreds of other food bloggers across the world, are celebrating the iconic chef by cooking one of her recipes. I chose to make Julia’s zucchini au gratin … and I can only hope my version would have made her proud!
Julia Child inspired many, many chefs and home cooks throughout her legendary career, myself included. A few months ago, I wrote a brief tribute to Julia for Women’s History Month … perhaps after checking out my recipe below, you’ll give it a read too. But, on to that recipe!
Zucchini is still quite abundant here in the Midwest, and as such, I’m always looking for recipes to use it up. When I found Julia’s recipe for zucchini au gratin in her book Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, I knew I didn’t have to look any further. Similiar to the classic dish potatoes au gratin, this recipe combines bright, vibrant zucchini with a smooth, creamy béchamel sauce, which is then baked until bubbly and golden brown.
Wait. Hold the phone. Béchamel sauce? That sounds really hard to make, right? Don’t fear, my friends. While béchamel sauce—one of the five classic French “mother sauces”—sounds like something only a classically-trained chef could make, it’s actually fairly simple. Made by whisking milk into a roux of white flour and butter, béchamel sauce just requires a bit of patience (and a lot of whisking) to ensure it comes together. If you have butter, flour, and milk on hand, you have all the ingredients you need to make a basic béchamel sauce!
I mixed up Julia’s recipe a bit, but I made sure to keep all of the classic ingredients in her zucchini au gratin there … especially the butter. Seriously, it can’t be a Julia recipe without a lot of butter, right! And even though I veered a bit from her original recipe, I think Julia would have loved this version … creamy and cheesy, yet surprisingly light, this zucchini au gratin will be making another appearance on our kitchen table soon!
Zucchini au Gratin
- 4 pounds zucchini
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (for the zucchini)
- 2 tablespoons butter (for the zucchini)
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup reserved zucchini juice
- 3 tablespoons butter (for the sauce)
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (for the sauce)
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 ounces fresh shaved Parmesan cheese
1. Place a large colander over a medium-sized mixing bowl, ensuring that it fits snuggly.
2. Grate the zucchini into the colander, then toss with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Let sit 20 minutes, pressing occasionally with a wooden spoon to help release the juices from the zucchini. After 20 minutes, press zucchini again to ensure all juices are released. Reserve 1/2 cup zucchini juice.
3. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add minced shallot and cook until soft and translucent, approximately 3 minutes. Add the grated zucchini and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until tender, but still bright green. Remove from heat.
4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease or butter either a small-medium sized casserole dish or 8 individual-sized ramekins.
5. Combine 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup reserved zucchini juice, and keep at the ready.
6. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Once melted and bubbly, add the flour and whisk constantly until mixture (roux) becomes a pale yellow color. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the milk/zucchini juice mixture, whisking vigorously. Return the saucepan to the heat, and continue to whisk the mixture until no lumps of roux remain, approximately 1 minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, and the nutmeg, whisk together, and then continue to whisk until the sauce thickens, approximately 4 minutes.
7. Pour the sauce over the grated zucchini/shallot mixture and stir together. Pour the zucchini and sauce into a casserole dish or divide among individual ramekins. Top with the Parmesan cheese, then bake for 20 minutes until bubbling and browned. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Happy 100th Birthday, Julia!
P.S. For more Julia fun, check out this fabulous musical mash-up of the legendary chef from PBS Food.