Gratin: It’s not just about potatoes

In Lifestyle, Recipies on July 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm

The Phyne Dyner made a few lifestyle adjustments and summertime greeted him with a bounty of fresh vegetables. So, why not ‘go gratin’?

A development during the recent hiatus of the Phyne Dyner was our household’s switchover from conventional foods to all organic and low glycemic index food.

For decades, my breakfast has alternated between a bowl of Israeli-style salad with a small helping of cottage cheese or one cup of rice slathered with sambal oelek or Vietnamese chili paste. Until 19 March of this year, my rice was white and our proletarian-style meals usually had its starch component filled with potatoes. Our meat (almost never eaten, except on Shabbat) was previously the supermarket variety. Now, its cage-free chicken (rarely free-range beef) that has been air chilled instead of cooled in a ‘fecal water bath’ by the packer.

My morning repast remains unchanged, except that the rice is an organic, brown jasmine variety. Because brown rice metabolizes more slowly into glucose, there’s no glucose/insulin spike. Consequently, my morning hour of meditation doesn’t find me in a sugar high that crashes halfway through the session.

The health benefits are just becoming noticeable.

I’ve lost about twenty pounds and I’m able to snug up my belt by two more notches.

It’s been a good trade.

While our weekly grocery bill is about 20% higher than with standard supermarket fare, we find we eat far less food because the meals are more satisfying. This is especially true of the meals containing chicken.

The higher quality chicken doesn’t cook down or shrink because of a high fat content or because the meat has been permeated with water during processing. One chicken leg (Can you believe?) satisfies me. The rest of the plate gets filled with seasonal vegetables that now constitute about 95% of our diet.

With the advent of summer, eating vegetarian is a snap. My garden is just coming in and we have had fresh herbs since May. My dehydrator runs 24/7 to deal with the surplus of basil, tarragon, oregano, mint, chives, and sage. Zucchini and eggplant abound and menus vary according to what I pick each day. That means ratatouille will be in my future very soon. Right now, I have a pretty good mix of root and leafy stuff and that goes into quiches, galettes, or gratins.

Most people are only familiar with gratin as a potato and cheese affair and that’s a shame. So, to help you out of your own potato rut, I’ve decided to run with a mixed vegetable version that also includes a good handful of fresh chard. It’s a colorful and satisfying meal that you can assemble from what’s in the fridge. Enjoy!

You’ll need (makes about 1.5 to 2 liters):

2 medium zucchini, sliced

2 shallots, minced (abt 3 TBS), divided

2 ribs celery, diced

2 C diced carrot

1 small bunch fresh chard

1 medium yellow onion, minced

6 green onions, sliced white and green parts

2 C diced white mushrooms

4 cloves garlic, cut into matchsticks

½ C dry white wine

1 ½ C milk

1 C water or vegetable stock

2 tsp dry Herbes de Provence

½ C flour (may use 50% whole wheat)

1/3 C Romano cheese, grated

½ C bread crumbs or matzo meal

4 TBS butter or olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh chives for garnish

Melt the butter (or use olive oil) in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium low heat. Stir in the shallots, carrot, and onions. Cook until just beginning to sweat (about 8 minutes), being careful not to brown the vegetables. Stir in the garlic and cook until its fragrance blooms. Scatter the flour over the vegetables and stir constantly until the flour just begins to darken. Increase the heat to medium and deglaze the pan with the wine, being sure to scrape up any clinging bits of flour from the bottom of the pan. Immediately stir in the water (or stock) and the milk. Add the herbs, salt, and pepper. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, (stir often) until the mixture thickens.

Meanwhile, bring about 3 quarts of salted water to a slow boil. Clean the chard well to remove any sand or grit and then tear the leaves from the tough stems. Blanch the chard for about 4 minutes and immediately drain in a colander, and quench the chard under cold running water. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Carefully wring as much water as possible from the chard and cut it into bite-size pieces. Stir the chard into the vegetable gratin mixture and remove it from the heat.

Oil a large baking dish or casserole. Mix the breadcrumbs (or matzo) with about 1 TBS of olive oil and the grated cheese. Season this mixture with a bit of salt and pepper. When the gratin mixture is cool enough to handle, spoon it into the baking dish and spread it evenly across. Scatter the breadcrumb mixture over the gratin and bake the gratin for about 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the gratin to rest for about ten minutes. This will allow it to thicken a bit more. Garnish with minced chives and serve in deep bowls with a fresh garden salad.



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