February marks winter’s depth. The excitement of the holidays are behind us, and at least a month of winter, probably two, is ahead of us. Everything begins to look and feel the same with grey skies and cold temperatures.
Fortunately, the farmer’s market fare is still bounding with the hardiest root vegetables. There are so many satisfying dishes to make that celebrate both the desire to stay warm and cozy and eat something comforting. One of my favorites is a root vegetable gratin.
A gratin is really anything topped by a crust. “Gratin” derives from a French word that roughly translates to scrapes and bits. The idea is to scrape together leftover bits of cheese and bread to create the crust. Most gratin dishes consist of vegetables surrounded by a thick cream sauce and topped with a breadcrumb, cheese and butter topping. The crunchy with the creamy is a perfection of textures and can be a comfort on the wildest day.
Root vegetables work wonderfully in a gratin. It is important to slice the vegetables thinly, which is easiest with a mandoline. A mandoline is inexpensive and creates the best delicate thin slices of vegetables for salads, as well as baked dishes. It might also be the most dangerous kitchen equipment you’ll own so I always don a pair of gloves while using. A food processor fitted with the slicing blade also works well.
Potatoes, turnips, celery root and carrots are plentiful in the winter months and cook wonderfully within a creamy white sauce and crumb topping. Beets are also plentiful in winter but keep in mind that red beets will stain everything. If that doesn’t bother you, and really, why should it, definitely include. The point is to have a strategy for the armful of vegetables you take home from the market, regardless of what they are each week. Gratins are easy to make, extremely adaptable and so very filling and comforting.
While everything else seems to stay the same these days leaving us all feeling a bit buried, it’s comforting to be able to create our own bright spot in winter. It will suffice until the sun starts to shine on us again and we begin to peek into Spring.
I received my mandoline as a gift (I know! Great gift, thanks Mom!) but I don’t see it available anymore. However, I’ve read good things about this mandoline and it is a decent price. I would stay away from hand held because I think they are less sturdy and therefore less safe, but that’s me. I’ve seen respectable mandolines at TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. Mine is DeBuyer and it is a great brand, if you can find it. I recommend a mandoline that is sturdy, has some weight and with a platform or legs covered in a non-slide surface (like rubber) so it won’t move while you are slicing.
Here are some gloves. 🙂
This is a helpful overview on how to “Get the Most Out of Your Mandoline.” It features great advice on safety and use, including links to some terrific recipes.
- (v) indicates vegan substitutions
- (gf) indicates gluten-free substitutions
- 4 carrots, peeled
- 2 parsnips, peeled
- 1 celery root, peeled
- 2 turnips, peeled
- 2 russet potatoes, peeled
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, (1) sliced in half, the other smashed and finely minced
- 4 thyme stalks
- 2 cups whole milk or almond milk (v)
- 2 Tablespoons flour or almond flour (gf)
- ½ cup breadcrumbs or ground almonds (gf)
- ½ cup parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast (v)
- 4 Tablespoons melted butter or olive oil (v)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub an 9 x 13 casserole dish with the sliced garlic all along the bottom and sides of the dish.
- Thinly slice carrots, parsnips, celery root, turnips and potatoes * using a mandoline or the slicing disk of a food processor. Slices need to be thin so that they cook until soft in the oven. Add to the casserole dish and carefully toss so that the vegetables are well distributed.
- In a small saucepan, heat milk and thyme stalks just until bubbles appear at the edge of the pan. Turn off heat.
- In a medium fry pan, heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil, add onions and a large pinch of salt. Stir occasionally over medium heat until onions are softened but not browned. Add the minced garlic and stir through for a minute.
- Add the flour and stir until onions and garlic are coated, cook for about 2 minutes. Remove thyme stalks from the milk and slowly pour milk over the onions. Stir with a whisk over medium-high heat until the mixture thickens. Add about a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Taste to make sure it is seasoned to your preference.
- Pour onion mixture over the vegetables in the casserole dish and carefully stir with a spatula to coat the vegetables with the sauce.
- In a medium bowl, combine the parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast) and breadcrumbs (or ground almonds) with a 4 Tablespoons melted butter or olive oil. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the casserole using a spatula.
- Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes until vegetables are tender and mixture is bubbling. If desired, remove foil and brown under a broil for a few minutes. (Keep a very close eye. Browning to turns to black in a matter of seconds.)
- *Note: Any combination of root vegetables will work. I usually need about 5-6 cups of sliced vegetables to fill a 9x13 dish. If you have fewer vegetables, that is just fine. Place in a smaller dish. Use as much sauce as needed to coat the vegetables.