08 April 2013
Baby leek and potato gratin
Spring means ramp season across much of the US, and the foodbloggers are starting to sit up and take notice. Ramp chimichurri, ramp pasta, ramp foraging and preserving guides--it's all ramps all the time.
Guess what I have never once seen in California? That's right: ramps.
Instead, when I went to the farmer's market last weekend, guess what I found?
That's right: it's the new season's first baby leeks. So tiny! So delightful! They aren't ramps, but they're still beautiful new fragrant alliums barely as thick as my index finger--and at $1.75 a bunch, I'll definitely take them.
And then I'll smother them in cream sauce and bake them into a fragrant potato gratin. Sure! Why not?
This recipe requires three main components: sauce, vegetables, and breadcrumb crust. If you are working by yourself, you may want to get the vegetables prepped in advance, but you can also cut them up afterward as long as you remember to watch the sauce and stir it occasionally. If you're working with someone else, you can do the veg and sauce at the same time. The breadcrumbs can go last with no problem.
All the leftover leek greens went immediately into a batch of vegetable broth destined for the freezer. Because it's great to make veg broth on the fly and everything, but sometimes you just want to whack a chunk of premade broth into a pot and walk away.
Baby leek and potato gratin
half and half/cream
For the sauce, start by melting half a stick of butter over medium heat in a saucepan of your choice. (We used the gratin dish, so as to avoid an extra dirty pot, but I wouldn't recommend it.) Add 4 tablespoons of flour and whisk together, cooking for about three minutes, to make a roux. Add a pint of cream or half and half and continue to cook, whisking frequently, for a good five minutes or so. The sauce will thicken as it cooks. You can add a bit of milk to thin it down if you think it needs it.
Season your thickened sauce with a tiny bit of nutmeg and a copious amount of ground black pepper. Gradually whisk in several large handfuls of grated gruyere cheese. If you want to use another cheese, feel free; just keep in mind that any highly flavored cheeses are going to dominate the finished product.
Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a pan of sauce mornay!
Okay. The vegetables mostly require a lot of cleaning and chopping. I used five little leeks and five boiling potatoes. Trim the roots and the ends of the tough greens off your leeks, split them in half, and wash them really well under cold running water. Slice them into inch-long chunks.
Scrub your potatoes well, removing any eyes. You can peel them if you like; I don't bother. Cut them in half, rest each half on its cut side, and slice into the thinnest slices you can manage. If you're prepping potatoes in advance, make sure to put them into a bowl of cold water; otherwise they can oxidize and turn to black mush in an astonishingly short period of time. Then just drain and pat them with a paper towel before assembling the gratin.
When your sauce and veg are ready, mix them together and pour them into a gratin dish or casserole of your choice. I also splashed a bit of milk over the top of mine, since the sauce was pretty thick and I wanted to make sure the potatoes had enough liquid to absorb.
Now it's time for the crust. This is easy. Just mix a cup or so of breadcrumbs with a sprinkling of olive oil, a couple spoonfuls of dijon mustard, and a bit of pepper. We usually end up cubing pieces of fresh bread for our crumbs, but whatever you have should work. Mix everything together, making sure you have enough oil to coat the bread. Then spread your breadcrumb mixture over the top of your gratin dish. If you have extra grated cheese, scatter it on last. Otherwise, the breadcrumbs work well by themselves.
Now put the whole thing in the oven and bake at 350F for about forty minutes, or until your potatoes are tender to the point of a knife and your breadcrumbs are golden and sizzling.
Hooray! Beautiful, golden, fragrant gratin!
We ate our gratin as dinner, with big mesclun and grape tomato salads. Then I ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day, after a short encrispening in the toaster oven. I didn't put a fried egg on top, but I was tempted. That would be pretty perfect, especially with another big bed of greens.
The tomatoes were also at the farmer's market, incidentally, as were a vast array of heirloom tomato plants. I got two. Soon they will be in my garden. SOON.
Which alliums are popping up at your market? What are you making with them?