Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gracious Gratin

This is an older post that I just rediscovered I had been in the middle of writing. I have to find a way to write regularly. I'm still cooking but life has made posting hard - I will endeavor because I like thinking about what I've been cooking and what's been working and what is seasonally interesting.

So, from April:
It's been a busy bunch of weeks and yet, Shabbat still shows up with regularity, complete with hungry guests and family members eager for that nice meal that they've been denied all week (as if I don't feed them anyway). My recent 'go to dish' has been a vegetable gratin - a simple saute of greens and peppers, or mushrooms and greens, or white beans, greens and whatever else catches my eye, bound together with a bit of tasty cheese (I have a large and lovely hunk of parm from Rome that I'm using judiciously), topped with some fresh bread crumbs and baked briefly in the oven to toast the crumbs and set the gratin.

Last week, along with a light soup - carmelized leek soup (nice this time of year) - fresh, crusty bread, a few spreads and side salads, it was a relatively easy meal. (If you make the soup, I don't use chicken broth, I fiddle with wine, veg broth and water as needed. Do use the butter, but you can combine it with olive oil.)

Master Recipe:
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bunches of cooking greens - Kale, Collards, Chard. Trim the stems and cut the stems off by the beginning of the leaf. Clean and chop the stems as if you were preparing celery and keep them separate from the leaves. Chop the leaves (I stack them and slice down the middle and then across and rough chop them further) and place them in a bowl with water to soak.
1-2 red peppers, chopped
10 oz sliced mushrooms, optional but tasty
1/2 cup grated hard cheese, like parmesan or manchego.
1 cup of fresh bread crumbs. Add 1-2tbsp of olive oil and season with salt, pepper and thyme.
(Toast the crumbs in the oven, spread on a baking sheet for about 3-5 minutes. Keep an eye on them but you do want them to lightly brown.)

Saute the onion and garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes and some fresh or dried thyme. Let the onions color a bit and begin to carmelize, 5-7 minutes. If things seem to dry in the pan, add a splash of white wine, water or apple juice/water and a squeeze of lemon (which is an old veg tip for the non-alcohol cookers). Add the stems and chopped pepper, stir a bit and let that cook a bit further. Another good way of adding some liquid is simply to cover and let the veggies soften and steam and then uncover to get some browning happening.

Add the chopped greens, lifting them out of the water and shaking lightly before adding to the pan. This way, the greens arrive with some water clinging to their leaves which helps things soften and cook down nicely. Even if it seems like too many greens for the pot, shove them in and cover them and let them cook down and soften but not turn to mush, stirring occasionally as they begin to collapse and fit into the pan better - about 7-8 minutes.

Strain the vegetables and add some cheese. You can add about 1/2 cup shredded parmesan and I recommend a dry and crumbly kind of parmesan to add lots of flavor in that 1/2 cup. You could go with a soft cheese and crumble in about 3-4 oz of soft goat cheese. Or, choose a hard cheese of your liking - smoked gouda or manchego, for example. The cheese is enough to bind this lightly without adding egg but you could add an egg or 2 mixed with a spot of milk for a more 'bound' gratin but that's more like a quiche and I wasn't looking for that.

Spread the gratin into a large baking pan - 9x13 or thereabouts. Top with toasted crumbs and bake just to combine everything and melt the cheese and further brown the crumbs - about 20 minutes tops.