Lean in close, and I’ll let you in on a shameful little secret of mine: I’ve never successfully made a gratin before now. Absurd, right? The easy-peasy staple of French cooking, winter cooking and (let’s face it) 1950′s home cooking has never been my forté. Until now, that is.
It’s not as though I’ve been slaving away over a hot stove (er, oven) trying to make the perfect gratin or anything; I’ve only really tried once, and the dismal scalloped potatoes that resulted were enough to put me off the whole idea. Rather than the creamy, cheesy dish I’d tried at my sister’s, my effort- with the same, borrowed recipe, I might add- was strangely both watery and lumpy. If I’m honest, my pride was a little hurt- I’m meant to be the cook in the family, after all.
Though for some reason, cooking au gratin was on my mind last week. Maybe it was the dawn of winter, or the delicious-looking Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin that Deb posted, or (and this is more likely) maybe it was the two potatoes and half a swede, left over from my Root Vegetable Korma, that were burning a hole in my crisper.
Somewhat imprudently for someone with acknowledged gratin performance issues, I didn’t follow any specific recipe for this dish. Instead I glanced in a couple of my favourite go-to cookbooks for a quick refresher on technique, and jumped in head first. I was unsure whether to pre-cook the vegetables (some recipes call for it, some don’t) but decided to err on the safe side. For cheese I chose a nutty Emmental, which I thought would be a nice change from my standby cheddar.
My “throw caution to the wind” approach worked, in this case. Hitting the nail on the head in both flavour and texture, the gratin was rich and creamy but delicately flavoured. Quite the coup- especially considering that I was only holding out for something edible.
Potato, Swede and Leek Gratin
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 1/2 a swede, peeled, halved and sliced into 1/4″ slices
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 1 bay leaf
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1 cup grated cheese (Emmental, Gruyère or Cheddar)
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1/2 cup single cream
1. Preheat your oven to 175°C/350°F, and lightly butter a 8 x 10″ gratin dish.
2. Combine the potatoes, swede, leeks and crushed garlic cloves in a deep frying pan that has a lid. Pour over the milk, add the bay leaf and season gently (you can always add more later).
3. Simmer, partially covered, over low heat for 15 minutes- until potatoes and swede are tender to the point of a knife. Remove from heat to cool slightly, then find and discard the bay leaf and garlic cloves.
4. Using a slotted spoon, remove half the mixture to the prepared gratin dish, trying to get an even mix of potatoes, swede and leeks. Cover with half of the grated cheese, then repeat with the rest of the vegetables/cheese.
5. Return the remaining simmering liquid to a low heat, and add the butter and cream. Whisk until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. You should have about 1 1/2 cups of liquid, which will be the consistency of light cream.
6. Pour the liquid over the vegetables and cheese- it should come 3/4 of the way up the dish, but not cover it completely. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Serve immediately.