While I don’t think men are the only ones who like gratin, I file this one under Man Food. With it’s hearty potato, cheese and cream trifecta, it is something a man will inhale in heaps while a woman looks on jealously as she picks at her own dainty portion. At least, that’s the way it works around here.
I’ve found if you even whisper “gratin”, the men in the room perk up. Mumbles of “I love gratin” fill the air. Meanwhile, the ladies nod in agreement that gratin is good though they reserve their expressions of love for things covered in chocolate. (I don’t want anyone to be upset with me for playing into stereotypes, I’m just going from my own unscientific data).
Potatoes with their little eyes peering back at me as I washed and prepared them for their fate… I’m not sure what it is about potatoes and leeks that works so very well, but it is a match made in heaven or some other really nice place. I used to think leeks were icky, but then I realized that the way I had them originally was icky, not the leeks themselves. Leeks are lovely.
Potato and Leek Gratin
(adapted from Onion Potato Gratin on Simply Recipes)
about 1 pound potatoes (I used red, though yukon gold is really nice too… use what you have)
about 1 pound leeks
2 tablespoons olive oil (or butter if you prefer)
1/2 cup whole milk (or cream for added richness)
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded (you can use Gruyere also, I used baby Swiss)
1/4 cup parmesan, grated (I used asiago instead because that’s what I had. But either will work).
salt and pepper, to taste.
(optional) 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set aside an 11×7-inch baking dish.
- Peel and clean the potatoes. Slice thinly, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick using a mandolin or sharp knife. Put potato slices into a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are “al dente”… fork tender but not falling apart. Drain and set aside.
- Quarter the leeks lengthwise (leaving the root intact). Clean the leeks. Chop roughly into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces (this doesn’t have to be precise as long as the pieces are bite sized). Saute the leeks in olive oil (or butter… or bacon fat for that matter) until slightly translucent and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
- Put about half of the potatoes in a layer on the bottom of the 11×7-inch baking dish. Layer about half of the leeks on top of the potatoes, followed by 1/3 of each of the cheeses. Lightly salt and pepper this layer (a pinch or 2 of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper). Create another layer with the remaining potatoes, leeks, and cheeses. Lightly salt and pepper the top.
- If using the panko breadcrumbs, sprinkle on top of your layered potatoes and cheese. This will give the top an extra bit of crunch (which I like).
- Pour 1/2 cup of milk (or cream) into the dish. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the milk has thickened and the top is golden brown (the potatoes should be completely cooked).
- Serve it hot to a man or serve it to a hot man… either way you can’t lose.
- After you peel potatoes, you can set them in a bowl and cover them with water to avoid dirty potato syndrome (where the potatoes start getting dingy from oxidation).
- Leeks need to be washed thoroughly because they are usually filled with dirt and sand. The best way I have found to do this is this: cut off the dark green parts and leave the root end intact. Slice the leeks lengthwise up to but not through the root and then rotate the leek 90 degrees and slice it lengthwise again (not through the root). Swish your little leek-broom in a bowl of water or massage it under running water until it is clean. (I believe I learned this by watching Ina Garten on one of her shows though I don’t really remember where I picked it up).
- Bacon fat would add a richness and smokey flavor if you use it in place of olive oil to saute the leeks.
- I’ve made this a couple of times using whatever potatoes and cheeses I had on hand and my conclusion is that it’s hard to go wrong with potato and cheese…