- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

Gratins, common in French cooking, are simply medleys of seasonal fruits or vegetables baked and served in shallow oven-proof plates. They take less time and emerge with more elegance than a large casserole and make a pleasantly light finish to a party or casual supper.

In French, gratin is the golden crust that forms on the surface of a dish when browned in the oven or put under the broiler. Usually this is a topping of grated cheese or bread crumbs. The topping keeps the underlying food from drying out as it cooks and also improves the flavor.

Fall fruit gratins can be made from any firm fruit that exudes juice as it cooks. D’anjou, Bosc and Comice pears; any tart cooking apples; black or red plums; peaches; quince; and even tropical fruits such as mango, papaya and pineapple make tasty gratins.

I usually serve fruit gratins bubbling hot, with a dollop of low-fat vanilla yogurt or ice milk that melts in enticing rivulets through the fruit and crust. Leftover gratins can be reheated for breakfast.

Fall apple gratin

3 cups tart cooking apples, cored and thinly sliced

Juice of ½ lemon

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup apple juice

⅓ cup currants or dried cranberries

¼ cup chopped pitted dates

1 cup low-sugar granola

½ cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

Divide apple slices evenly among 6 4-inch lightly oiled gratin dishes. Sprinkle with lemon juice and cinnamon. In blender, process apple juice, currants or dried cranberries and dates until pureed, then pour over apple slices. Sprinkle granola over each gratin. Bake 25 minutes in 400-degree oven or until filling is hot and bubbling and topping is lightly browned. Serve with vanilla yogurt. Makes 6 servings.

Plum and pear gratin

1½ cups red plums, thinly sliced

1½ cups pears, cored and thinly sliced

½ cup honey or maple syrup

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

½ cup crushed Italian biscotti or amaretti cookies

Divide plum and pear slices evenly among 6 lightly oiled 4-inch gratin dishes. In small bowl, stir together ½ cup honey or maple syrup or to taste, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon juice. Spoon over fruit, then top with crushed cookies. Cover each dish with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes in 400-degree oven. Remove foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 6 servings.

Peach-raspberry gratin

2 cups sliced peaches

1 cup raspberries

Juice of ½ lemon

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup peach juice (see note)

1 cup low-sugar granola

½ cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

Divide peach slices evenly among 6 lightly oiled 4-inch gratin dishes.

Sprinkle with raspberries, then lemon juice and cinnamon.

Pour peach juice over peach slices. Sprinkle granola over each gratin.

Bake 25 minutes in 400-degree oven or until filling is hot and bubbling and topping is lightly browned. Serve with vanilla yogurt.

Makes 6 servings.

Note: Peach juice is available in natural food stores and some supermarkets.

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