Sunday, November 15, 2009

Leek and Potato Gratin

Last week I stopped by my local organic store and they had beautiful young leeks. I love the taste of leeks, it's sweeter and more delicate than onions. For a more sophisticated and subtle flavor use leeks in your recipes instead of onions. Leeks are full of dirt and sand. To clean them, cut each stalk in 1/4" inch thick slices. The slices will then have to be cleaned in a large bowl of cold water. Once the leeks are in the water, separate each ring from the slices and swish the pieces around in the bowl for a minute or two. Scoop the leeks out of the water. Do not strain or the dirt (which is now in the bottom of your bowl) will return to the leeks.
For the Gratin
2-3 tbsp olive oil
6 small leeks of about 1" inch diameter (or 3 big ones), cleaned and sliced to 1/4 inch thick
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Approximately 2 cups of bechamel (see recipe below)
1 big Yukon Gold potato, sliced with your mandolin to approx. 1/8 inch thick
1 1/2 big sweet potatoes - sliced with your mandolin to approx. 1/8 inch thick
Homemade bread crumbs, using your favorite country bread (see directions below)
Few dots of butter
Preheat oven to 375 degree.
Heat a large non-stick skillet to medium. Add olive oil. When oil is hot but not smoking, add the leeks. Cook for approximately 3-5 minutes or until wilted. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 30-60 seconds. Season with sea salt and pepper. Remove leeks from skillet and set aside. Coat a gratin dish with olive oil. Crush a big garlic clove with the side of your knife, peel it and rub it all over the gratin dish. Spread 1/2 cup of bechamel in the bottom on the gratin dish. Cover the bechamel with one layer of Yukon Gold potatoes, followed by one layer of leeks and one layer of the sweet potatoes. Repeat the same operation, starting with the bechamel, until you are out of ingredients finishing the layers with a very thin coat of bechamel (if it's too thick your bread crumbs will soak up the bechamel and your topping will be soggy). At this point, if you are a cheese lover, you can add some. Sprinkle with your homemade bread crumbs and place a few dots of butter over the top. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes.
For the Bechamel
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 full tbsp flour (I used spelt flour but any other flour will do - try to stick to something whole and not processed)
2 cups of almond milk (but you can also use cow milk if desired)
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Fresh thyme (leaves from 2-3 sprigs)
Sea salt and Pepper
Heat up a medium size pan over medium heat. Add the oil and butter. When butter is melted add the flour. Cook for 2-3 minutes (do not let the flour burn). Add the milk in a fine stream constantly stirring with a whisk. Do not let the sauce boil, it should be smoking but not boiling (you want it just before the simmering point). If the sauce starts to get thin, stop adding milk and stir until thick again. The sauce is ready when it coats a wooden spoon. Add nutmeg and thyme at the end when all the milk is incorporated to the flour. Season with sea salt and pepper. If your sauce is not thick, it might be because it boiled. Reduce the heat to just below the simmering point. In a small bowl, mix 1 tbsp of flour with 1/4 cup of cold milk. Whisk until smooth and add to your sauce. Stir until sauce gets thick.
For the breadcrumbs
Use 2-3 slices of your favorite country bread. Break into chunks of 2-3 inches. Transfer to your food processor and pulse a few times until your bread is chopped to pea size pieces.