Potato Gratin with Caramelized Fennel and Leek
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and any bruised outer leaves removed
1 medium-large leek
2 T butter, divided plus extra for pan
1 garlic clove
3 fist sized yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 T. fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and Pepper
1/2 – 1 c grated hard, salty cheese (about 2 – 4 oz) (such as parmesan, manchego, or gruyere)
approximately 3/4 cup cream (or substitute milk or stock)
Slice both the fennel and leek into thin rounds. Heat 1T butter in a medium-large saute pan over medium heat until melted, then add the fennel and leek and stir to coat. Reduce heat to low and cook until fennel and leeks are caramelized, about 40 minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent burning.
Meanwhile, thinly slice the potatoes (about 1/8th – 1/16th of an inch thick).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 1.5 qt baking dish*, then slice the garlic clove in half and rub all over the pan.
When fennel and leeks are caramelized, assemble the gratin: layer 1/3 of the potatoes in the baking dish, overlapping slightly; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon half of the fennel and leek mixture over potatoes and spread evenly. Dot with 1 t butter, and sprinkle with 1 t thyme. Repeat for one more layer. Top with remaining potatoes, and dot with remaining butter and thyme. Sprinkle grated cheese over gratin, then pour in enough cream, milk, or stock so that the liquid is at the same level as the top of the potatoes.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until top is golden and gratin is fork tender. Enjoy!
*I used an oval pan that is about 10 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 2 inches deep.
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It’s official: Spring is in full swing here in Los Altos Hills, California — the days are getting noticeably longer, the pea plants in my garden are exploding with fresh peas, and the winter greens (collards & kale) have bolted to seed… my seedlings on the windowsill are growing like mad and will be transplanted in just two or three short weeks. There’s still snow in the nearby Sierras, but here in the Bay Area it’s nothing but blue skies.
In these first days of spring you’d think I would be singing the praises of spring vegetables I haven’t seen in almost a year — asparagus, fava beans, shelling peas, and pea shoots, to name a few. Believe me, I am (and will be on Modern Beet very soon — I have a whole backlog of spring recipes just waiting to be posted). Yet in the early days of spring I sometimes long for one last ‘winter vegetable hurrah’ — something earthy, rich, and filling, usually with tubers or root vegetables, a healthy dose of cheese, and some fresh hearty herbs that do well in cooler temperatures, such as rosemary or thyme. That longing, plus the desire to clean out my vegetable drawer, inspired this gratin.
Gratins are a great canvas for experimentation and improvisation — you don’t have leeks? substitute onions. you don’t have fennel? oh well. just use all leeks, onions, or even celery; you can even leave it out entirely and do a plain potato gratin. love garlic? feel free to add some (either roasted or chopped fresh). don’t have potatoes? try parsnips, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, or turnips. The method is the same for whatever ingredients you use — slice the main ingredient into thin rounds, layer into a baking dish (perhaps adding embellishments between layers), dot with butter and herbs, add liquid, top with cheese, bake, enjoy.
A healthy portion of gratin, a green salad, some fruit, and a glass of white wine makes for a light, delicious, and elegant dinner. And on a side note, I’m hoping to find some cardoon (a relative of the artichoke) at the farmer’s market in the upcoming weeks — one of the most delicious gratins I’ve ever made had this as the main ingredient… yum!