It’s stormy outside today: rain pounding the window, leaves swirling through the breeze and sticking to the wet streets and sidewalks. This is just the sort of day it feels luxurious to stay home and bake something in the oven.
I’ve been thinking lately that I love my oven.
Well, not my oven so much (a standard GE electric model that doesn’t even have a light to tell you when the oven’s on or one of those handy windows that let you peek inside. Plus, it runs 25 to 50 degrees too hot*) — just any oven especially on a fall or winter day.
The oven is a wonder. A few recent examples:
Of course, the oven not only works miracles with baked goods. I use it all the time for roast potatoes and vegetables (roast potatoes are far easier, less time-consuming (and less caloric)and just as tasty as fried potatoes, in my opinion) as well as roast chicken, of course.
Last week, after I mailed off my manuscript to London (with some anxiety but greater relief), I decided the occasion called for something I love but rarely make: a potato-leek gratin. I was inspired by some beautiful organic leeks I’d bought at a self-serve farm stand — and I had already made leek-potato soup a few days before.
So, the gratin– which is basically the same as scalloped potatoes. It’s not difficult to make, and an hour in the oven transforms potatoes, leeks, milk and a bit of cheese into the ultimate comfort-food dinner.
As far as I’m concerned, forget about this as a side dish. Just call it supper.
Potato-leek gratin adapted from Russ Parsons.
Note: A lot of gratin recipes call for cream. Certainly, you could use some in this recipe, or half-and-half, but even low-fat milk will work just fine. You could also add sauteed mushrooms, as Parsons does, along with the leeks. If you don’t have leeks, substitute sauteed onions or garlic.
- 2 large leeks, white only, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
- 1 1/2 pounds potatoes (any kind, peeled or not)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup Gruyere cheese
- 1 2/3 cup milk
- salt, pepper and nutmeg
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a casserole, either a rectangular one or a square one for more layers.
- Melt the tablespoon of butter or heat the oil in a skillet and gently saute the leeks for a few minutes; then cover the skillet, lower the heat and let the leeks cook until softened. Season with salt and pepper.
- Slice the potatoes as thinly as you can and pat them dry with a kitchen towel. Arrange them in a rough layer in the baking dish, and season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Then distribute the leeks over them along with half of the grated cheese. (If you are using the square pan, you can just use a third of the leeks and the cheese, and add another layer).
- Top with the remaining layer of potatoes, as solidly as possible, and scatter the remaining cheese over the top.
- Bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan and pour over the potatoes. You should be able to barely see the milk under the top layer. Bake for about 55 minutes to an hour, until the top is thoroughly browned and the gratin is a compact mass. Remove from the oven and serve.
* P.S. I recommend getting a cheap oven thermometer so you can check out your oven. A lot of my baked goods were over-baked until I realized that the oven was running hotter than the dial read, and figured out how to adjust it.