Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

gratin

The Season of Root Vegetables in More Ways than One

Rutabaga Gratin Recipe and Simmergreat Product Endorsement/Discount

Always something of a rebel, I grew up loving foods most people don’t like or at least think they don’t like just because it seems like nobody else does. For me, these rebel roots translate to an enduring love of root vegetables – including turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas. Being winter and very early spring vegetables, I always start thinking about them in February, which is when I bought my last rutabaga. It survived a move and a couple months of waiting on my counter before I finally put it into the delicious recipe that follows.  Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about how root vegetables, especially parsnips and turnips, are becoming hot in culinary circles.  For added proof of the trend, I ran into James Beard awarded superstar and local chef Mike Lata at Harris Teeter several weeks ago with a bunch of parsnips in his hands, that he intended to put to use in a pasta dish.

As if that wasn’t enough inspiration, I have a pound of fresh spring potatoes in my pantry, so I decided to do as the Swedes do, and pair the rutabaga with some potatoes and cream. But, rather than puree them, I layered very thin slices in a gratin and bound them with Half & Half infused with lots of fresh thyme, black pepper, mascarpone, sour cream, butter and a nutty Parmesan finish. The results were fabulous – sweet, creamy, nutty, crunchy, smooth bites of root vegetable goodness, just in time for spring and Mother’s Day.

(Note: It’s very important to cut through both the outer skin of the tough, waxy rutabaga, as well as the inner skin, which is about 1/4″ thick. Discard these and then proceed to slice the rutabaga whisper thin, so thin you can practically see through them.)

Well-Thyme Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

(Yields about 8 servings)

Well-Thymed Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

Well-Thymed Rutabaga and Potato Gratin

Equipment needed:  One 5-quart, shallow gratin or casserole dish (about 2″ deep, one foot long, and 8″ wide)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter to coat the pan

For the cream mixture:

1 1/2 cups Half & Half

1/2 cup whole sour cream

1/2 cup mascarpone

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (leave whole)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Vegetables:

1 large rutabaga, peeled, quartered and very thinly sliced (about six cups)

2 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

Topping:

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375F. Spread the 1 tablespoon of butter evenly along the sides and bottoms of the gratin dish. Combine the Half & Half, sour cream, mascarpone, garlic, thyme, seasonings and remaining tablespoon butter in a medium sauce pan. Whisk together over medium heat-low. Bring up to a gentle simmer and cook to infuse the flavors for five minutes. Remove from the heat. Discard the garlic cloves. Whisk in the Dijon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Arrange half of the sliced rutabaga in a tight, overlapping single layer in the bottom of the gratin dish. Add a second layer of tight, overlapping sliced potatoes. Cover with half of the cream mixture, distributing evenly.  Top with the remaining cream mixture, spreading with a spatula to distribute evenly. Press the top lightly with your fingertips to “tighten” the layers. Sprinkle a dusting of salt and pepper over the top. Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan Reggiano and bake anther 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is golden and slightly crunchy and the rutabaga yield easily to a knife when pierce. Rest 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with a few fresh thyme sprigs. Delicious with roast chicken or pork, or a salad for a meatless meal.

New Product Endorsement – Simmergreat

If you’ve ever cooked with me, or taken one of my classes, you know that great knives and great pans aside, I’m not much of a gadget girl when it comes to cooking. However, I recently discovered a truly great product that made me wish I’d known about it back when I was simmering all of those soups and daubes for The French Cook – Soups & Stews last year. During that time, I struggled getting a steady simmer rate on my aging, moody gas stovetop. Simmergrate is an ingenious contraption that sits above your low gas flame and magically tempers your pot to a steady simmer. All you have to do is put it over the flame, place the pot (any pot) on top, set your burner to low and voila, you’ve got an unwavering simmer. I used this when I was simmering the cream for the recipe above. I didn’t touch the dial once, and no scorching, boiled over cream. It’s still on my stove where it will remain for many future uses, whether it be roasting peppers, making sauces, and more. It even works on a gas grill. I’m a fan and I think you will be, too. Perfect for home cooks, professional chefs and anyone who enjoys cooking. Perfect for Mother’s Day, too. If you visit Simmergreat and make a purchase,  once it is in your cart, click on the coupon code and type in “holly” and you get a 10% discount on your total purchase. Happy simmering!

Simmergreat is made from indestructable ductile iron and provides excellent thermal heat distribution to enable perfect simmering every time.

Simmergreat is made from indestructable ductile iron and provides excellent thermal heat distribution to enable perfect simmering every time.

Don’t forget to visit www.simmergreat.com.

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Creamy Potato and Brussels Sprouts Holiday Gratin

Cooking at Christmas

Cooking is something I enjoy doing all year round. To me it’s a peaceful, meditative process that always brings me right into the moment of creating something delicious and transports me far away from any worries or strife. Perhaps that’s why I especially love cooking during the holidays, which can be a stressful time despite the import of the season’s messages of peace and joy. This year, I will be home (finally!) and cooking for a small group of friends. I’m particularly looking forward to a simple meal. My “core” menu item will be a standing rib roast of beef with a horseradish cream sauce and au jus for juicy dipping and my annual creamed spinach gratin.

I love gratins for many reasons – perhaps the biggest being their crunchy, buttery tops and tender, creamy centers. With those pre-requisites in mind, I created the recipe that follows. Even though I’m not a huge Brussels sprouts fan (except for using them as baby heads of lettuce in my childhood doll’s house kitchen), in keeping with the season and their rewarding versatility, I slipped them into this recipe.  The bottom layer is a mixture of grated Russett potatoes blended with sour cream, Parmesan, chopped, hydrated porcini mushrooms that ends up tasting like a soft, glorious loaded baked potato. The Brussels sprouts are quartered and nestled into the top of the potatoes and the whole glorious dish is topped with buttered panko crumbs tossed with plenty of fresh thyme. The Brussels sprouts neatly roast themselves and their light cabbage flavor into the nutty, creamy dish and the end result is nothing short of smashing.

I’ll be serving this alongside the beef at my holiday table, but it would also pair very well with turkey, pork, chicken or game. It could double as a main course for vegetarians, or even makes a delicious Christmas morning breakfast. It’s especially nice that it can be completely assembled, tightly covered and refrigerated overnight before baking. One important note: You’ll want to get your mis en place put together ahead of time and grate the potatoes at the last minute or they may discolor just a bit.

Creamy Potato and Brussels Sprouts Holiday Gratin

Creamy Potato and Brussels Sprouts Holiday Gratin

Creamy Potato and Brussels Sprouts Holiday Gratin

(Recipe makes 8 to 10 heaping side portions)

Needed: Large, shallow oven-proof casserole or gratin dish, roughly 3″ deep X 9″ long X 5″ wide.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 ounce (about 1 cup) dried porcini or substitute another strongly flavored dried mushroom

Enough water to cover – about 1 cup

3 large Russett potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated (about 8 cups)

4 cloves crushed garlic

1/2 cup whole cream

1/2 cup whole milk

2 cups whole sour cream

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon greshly ground black pepper

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered

For the topping:

4 tablespoons unsalted, melted butter

2 cups unseasoned panko bread crumbs (or another variety of plain, coarse bread crumbs)

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

Method:

Preheat oven to 3250F. Butter the casserole/gratin dish with the 2 tablespoons of butter. Place the porcini in a non-reactive 2-cup measuring cup or small glass bowl and cover with water. Heat in the microwave on high for one minute. Set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prep and grate the potatoes. Place in a large, clean kitchen towel and twist firmly over the sink to extract any excess water. Set aside, reserving in the towel wrap.Return to the reserved mushrooms. Strain the mushrooms out of the liquid and squeeze any fluid back into the “mushroom water.” Coarsely chop the mushrooms and set aside. Pour the reserved mushroom water into a small saucepan, being careful to strain out any possible grit through a paper towel or cheese cloth. Add the garlic, bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced down to 1/4 cup. Remove and discard the garlic cloves. Whisk in the cream, milk, sour cream, Parmesan and salt and pepper, and reserved chopped mushrooms. Heat over low heat to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

Place the grated potatoes in the buttered dish. Pour the entire cream mixture over the potatoes and toss thoroughly to coat. Spread the top evenly with a spatula to flatten it evenly. Arrange the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, evenly over the top. Season lightly with salt and pepper.  To prepare the topping, combine the melted butter, panko, seasonings and thyme in a small bowl. Drizzle evenly over the top of the entire gratin. Bake for one hour, or until golden brown, soft in the center and lightly bubbling. Serve warm with a garnish of fresh thyme sprigs.

Have a joyful, safe and delicious holiday and Christmas season!

Holly

 

 

 

 

 

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Bechamel Embellished

Voila!  The stock and fumet chapter is put to bed, so now it’s onto bechamel in the new sauce book. Some might argue, and in fact some of my friends have, that bechamel is boring. One of the five French mother sauces, I agree that it is certainly basic. It’s a simple white roux, sometimes flavored with a bit of onion and finished with milk and/or cream and seasoning.

But to me, that’s a huge part of bechamel’s beauty. The simple flavor backdrop and creamy, slightly thick consistency sets a dynamic flavor potential stage that help it evolve into anything from a Nantua to a Soubise with the addition of herbs, stock, cheese, or really just about anything that makes sense depending on what you’re pairing it with. Consider a chive and Parmesan bechamel over soft-scrambled eggs and toast or seasoned with mushrooms and wine as a tasty pasta topper? The possibilities are literally endless!

Not just a sauce, bechamel is also the tasty glue that holds together casseroles and gratins, as it does in this recipe I tested in my kitchen yesterday.

Crunchy Crustacean Gratin

 

The inspiration for the recipe came from a visit to my local fish monger. I found some gorgeous seasonal shrimp and some beautiful fresh stone crab (one pound of each). I crushed the crab with a mallet, leaving the raw flesh in place, and peeled and de-veined the shrimp. Both the crab and the shrimp shells went into a large pot with a bit of butter and a finely chopped leek and a finely chopped small onion. After it softened, I deglazed the pan with a fat splash of Chardonnay, reduced it down, added 8 cups of water, and allowed the whole thing to simmer lightly, skimming along the way (see previous post) until it reduced by half. Then, I strained the entire fumet, discarding the solids, returned it to the pan and reduced it until it was down to a cup of liquid. The result is known as a glace – in this case a crustacean glace. Two tablespoons of this were whisked into the bechamel, along with some herbs and seasonings to top the beautiful fresh shrimp and some more lump crab. The result was creamy, rich goodness that utterly defies the concept of a boring bechamel! Sacre bleu!

Crunchy Crab and Shrimp Gratin

(Makes 8 to 10 portions)

Basic Bechamel

1 shallot, finely chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons All Purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cold skim milk

1 cup cold Half & Half

Heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter and shallot and sweat to soften, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook another 2 – 3 minutes, whisking, and avoiding coloring the roux. Add the milk and Half and Half all at once, whisking to incorporate smoothly. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the bechamel up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat slightly, and continue cooking until thickened enough to coat a spoon and the flour flavor has cooked out – about 5 minutes. Season careful to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm for the gratin recipe, which only uses half of this recipe. The rest will store fine in the refrigerator for a couple days until you’re ready to make those eggs!

For the gratin:

1/2 recipe Basic Bechamel (above)

1 tablespoon sweet Vermouth

2 tablespoons of crustacean glace (see top of the column for instructions on preparation) OR substitute best quality fish stock or clam juice

2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

Generous dash Tabasco sauce

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 pound shrimp, peeled, de-veined and coarsely chopped

1 pound lump crab meat

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup bread crumbs tossed with 4 tablespoons softened butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the basic bechamel. Divide in half reserving the remainder for future use. While still warm, whisk in the Vermouth, glace, scallions, parsley, Old Bay Seasoning, Tabasco, lemon juice. Taste carefully and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, arrange the shrimp in the bottom of a shallow,   baking dish or pie pan. Top with an even layer of the crab. Pour the bechamel over the top, spreading with a spatula to distribute it evenly. Top with a layer of the bread crumbs. Bake until golden and bubbling, 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm! All this needs is a small salad to be a meal, and also makes a great appetizer with toast points.

Bon appetit!

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