Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bonus Recipe of the Month: Potato-Leek Gratin

Yesterday, Brian came home from work and greeted me with the question, "What do you want for dinner?" I gave my usual reply, which is, "Ummmmm....", since he's the one who does most of the cooking and I have very little idea at any given time what we have in the fridge to work with. So after a little discussion, we concluded that we'd probably have to make a quick trip to the store to pick something up.

We headed out to the local H-Mart, which has the best selection and prices for produce in our area. Brian scouted around the veggie bins and ended up selecting three leeks, which were on sale for $2 a pound. When I asked what he planned to do with them, he said, "It's an experiment." Since I knew from experience that (1) Brian's culinary experiments, while varying in quality, are invariably at least edible, and (2) anyone who complains about the food is just asking to be stuck with the cooking, I decided to trust his judgment and not probe the matter further.

Well, Brian's experiment turned out to be not merely edible but quite satisfying indeed. The basis of it was a recipe for frizzled leeks from Molly Katzen's Vegetable Heaven, which we've made many times before and either tossed with pasta or eaten straight. It's simple enough to make, if a little time-consuming: after washing the leeks, you cut them into "paper-thin" slices, sauté then in olive oil for five minutes to soften them up, and then arrange them on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake them for 15 minutes, giving them a quick stir every 5 minutes or so to keep them from burning. Then you take them out, sprinkle them with salt, and let them cool for 15 more minutes. (She says to transfer them first to a plate lined with paper towels, but we don't keep paper towels in our house, so we don't bother with that step. If they get a little crispy sitting in the hot pan, so much the better.)

Now, these by themselves are very tasty—sort of like potato chips, but much healthier—and I could quite happily eat them straight from the pan. But for what Brian had in mind, it turned out, frizzling the leeks was just the first step. He then tossed them into a baking dish with a bunch of stuff that he pulled out of the pantry, fridge, and freezer—a few potatoes, a pint container of shredded mozzarella that we had in the freezer, half a can of mushrooms that we happened to have left over from an omelet I cooked for myself while he was away—and baked the whole into a hearty, solid mass that was somehow far greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, it would be hard to go too far wrong combining potatoes, leeks, and mozzarella in any fashion, but this particular combination had some sort of alchemy that made it taste like far more than the improvised hodge-podge it was.

I've dubbed the result Brian's Potato-Leek Gratin. Here's the recipe, with some suitable modifications (such as allowing for the use of fresh cheese, in case you don't happen to have any sitting around in the freezer):
Brian's Potato-Leek Gratin  
5 medium potatoes
3 smallish leeks
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3 oz. canned mushrooms (about half a small can)
2 medium eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt
olive oil 
1. Frizzle the leeks, as described above.
2. At the same time (if you're organized enough to manage it), cook the potatoes in their skins in a pressure cooker.
3. Dice the mushrooms and the potatoes.
3. Mix together all ingredients except 1/2 cup of the cheese, or a little more. Dump mixture in a casserole lightly greased with olive oil and top with the rest of the cheese.
4. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
The only problem with this recipe is that it involves several stages. Frizzling the leeks takes about 20 minutes, and then you have to assemble the rest of the casserole before baking it. So probably the ideal way to make this would be to do a really big batch of frizzled leeks one night, use half of them in some pasta or what have you, and store the rest to make this casserole the next night. But if you don't mind waiting an hour for dinner, then you can do it just as described. Or, if you don't mind waiting an hour and a half, you can dash out to the H-Mart for the leeks before you start.

For those who care about such things, this recipe is vegetarian (though not vegan, obviously) and gluten-free. Though it naturally can't make any claims to being either low-fat or low-carb. Oh, and although it will be nearly a year before anyone has to worry about this, it's suitable for Passover as well.
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