Sunday, January 23, 2011

Leek and Mushroom Gratin

The word "gratin" is French and comes from the words gratter and gratine. Gratter means to scrape, as in the scrapings of bread or cheese and gratine is a verb form of the word for crust. This all makes perfect sense if you happen to know what a gratin is. For those of you that don't - here is a cooking lesson...

Gratin is a culinary method in which a prepared dish is topped with a crust consisting of breadcrumbs and/or cheese mixed with bits of butter. It is usually baked in a shallow dish in the oven until brown and crispy. This shallow dish is now called a gratin pan because it is served directly from the oven in the same dish. Technically, according to this term, baked macaroni and cheese is a gratin dish because of its top layer of breadcrumbs. Makes sense, doesn't it?

*This recipe was adapted from the Gourmet Today cookbook and the October 2009 Gourmet magazine. Sadly, that magazine is not printed anymore, but the Epicurious website still holds all of those amazing recipes!

3/4 stick unsalted butter, divided
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/4 lb Gruyere, finely grated (2 cups) (I used swiss cheese)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (I used dried parsley, same amount though)
3 lbs leeks, root ends trimmed (I only had 2 leeks so I am not sure this was enough?)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest (I used the zest of a whole lemon)
1 lb cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced (2 - 8oz packages)
Equipment: a 1 1/2 quart oval gratin or other shallow baking dish

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then cool. Toss melted butter with bread crumbs, cheeses, garlic, parsley, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper in a bowl until combined.

Trim each leek to an 8-inch length. Halve leeks lengthwise, then cut crosswise into roughly 1-inch pieces. *Wash leeks, then drain well.

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a 1-1 1/2 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook roux (a roux is a mixture of butter and flour, cooked until bubbly - to thicken a sauce), whisking, 1 minute. Add stock in a slow stream, whisking, then bring to a boil, whisking. Add nutmeg and zest and boil, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter baking dish.
Melt 1 tbsp butter in a 12-inch heavy skiller over medium-low heat. Add leeks and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper, then cover leeks directly with a round of parchment paper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and leeks are tender and just beginning to brown, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tbsp butter in a large heavy skiller over medium heat until foam subsides. Add mushrooms and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and mushrooms are just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove parchment from leeks and stir in mushrooms. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading it evenly. Pour sauce over vegetables and top with crumb mixture. Bake until gratin is bubbling and topping is golden, about 15 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

*Leeks need to be washed very well because they carry lots of dirt in-between their layers. The best way to do this is to slice and cut them according to the recipe and dump them into a strainer. That way you can rinse them easily under water while separating all the layers - therefore getting dirt out.

I absolutely LOVED this dish but would make a big change next time around... I would start by doubling the amount of mushrooms required so that there is a more equal ratio of filling to topping. I would keep all the other ingredients and amounts the same though. It was delicious regardless. In your first bite you can taste the zest of the lemon, the creaminess of the sauce and the saltiness of the cheese and mushrooms - all at once! The way the leeks were steamed with the parchment paper really helped them to stay soft and melt into the sauce. Overall, an A+ in my book. The only downside to this recipe is the amount of time needed to prepare the dish - not ideal for a weeknight meal or side-dish. Luckily for me, I worked from home the day I made this and had plenty of time to whip this up along with mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and a rotisserie chicken from the store.

Just so you know, upon doing my research for this dish, I also learned that "le gratin" in French is an term denoting "the upper crust" of society. So go ahead, stick up your nose and bake this gratin for dinner tomorrow night. Tutti Mangia!


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