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Cooking is something I have always enjoyed. I learned to cook at the apron strings of my mother and grandmother. The experience of cooking brings me both pleasure and peace of mind.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Roasted Potato and Fennel Gratin

I have been battling the flu lately but had a chance to make the recipe shown to me in the Sur La Table cooking class, "Winter Bistro Classics with Le Creuset".  Thanks to Chef Martin Gilligan for a great class.  I re-created the recipe sadly without the fennel, since there was none to be found in our local area but the outcome was still great.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large leeks, white and light green parts (wash and clean thoroughly)
2 coups heavy cream
1 dup whole milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2-1/2 pounds yukon golden potatoes

1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated parmeasan cheese
 3 medium fennel bulbs, fronds trimmed, bulbs cored and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of fresh thyme

Preparation - Cleaning & Slicing
Cleaning the leeks  we trimmed te leeks to the length we wanted, setting aside the darker green portins of the stock.  hen we sliced the leeks lengthwise.  This allowed for thorough cleaning of the leek, especially down in the lower folds/crevices of the plant.

Slicing of the potatoes and the fennel were accomplished on a mandolin with a safety glove.  This was truly a fun device but since I don't have one I did all my slicing by hand.  When I do buy a mandolin I will definitely get the kevlar safety glove which preclude the accidently slicing and unwanted addition of finger slices to the dish.  Slice the leeks, potatoes, and fennel into evenly thin slices, about the thickness of a medium knife (1/8") blade.  Being careful and patient we were able to make the majority of our slices very consistent.  In fact my wife volunteered to slice the potatoes and she did an excellent job.  It is common to rinse the potatoes and hold them in cold water until ready to use.  However in this recipe we rely on the starch from the potatoes to help form the thickening in the mixture.  So slice the potatoes just prior to adding them to the cream sauce.

Preparation - Putting the dish together
Place 2 tablespoons of butter into a large saucepan and heat over medium heat.  Add the leeks and saute until softened but not browned, about 4 - 5 minutes.

Add the milk and cream to the saucepan and heat until the mixture simmers.  Add salt and pepper, stirring well to combine.  At this point I added some of the thyme to the mixture for added flavor.  This is a slight departure from the recipe provided but I love thyme.  Cook undisturbed until potatoes are partially cooked and the mixture begins to thicken, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Generously grease a 13X9X2 inch baking dish with butter.  Combine the cheeses in a small bowl.  Using a slotted spoon or spider, carefully transfer a portion of the sliced potatoes into the dish. 

NOTE:  You can either artistically arrange or do a rustic spread of the potatoes.  The results are seen in the final dish when it is sliced and served.  The artistic layer may show a better cross-sectional view when presented but the taste  is the same.

Once you have placed a layer over the bottom of the pan layer the sliced fennel and a generous portion of the cheese mixture.  Repeat this layering until all of the potatoes and fennel fill the pan.  Pour the remaining cream mixture into the pan to just cover the potatoes ad fennel, then top with a layer of the cheese mixture.  Generously dot the surface with the remaining butter around the surface of the dish.

Bake in the pre-heated oven until the casserole bubbles around the edges, potatoes and fennel are tender and the top is golden brown, about 50 - 6 minutes.  If the top begins to brown too soon then cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake.

Serving Suggestion
Allow the gratin to set for at least 20 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle the gratin surface with thyme leaves.  Slice the gratin into serving portions and transfer to the serving plate with a metal spatula.  Serve immediately while hot.  With a little fineese you can present a nicely cut profile highlighting all of the layers of potatoe, cheese, and fennel

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