Friday, June 26, 2009

Greens Gratin

I've been going to the farmer's markets for work lately, peddling our baked beauties to all the Boston suburbs. It's exhausting and lately very soggy, but ultimately really fun. I feel like I'm a part of the local economy, participating in the community, getting all hippie dippie.

Now, let me tell you about the best part of the market day: when the clock strikes and you're done, the real shopping begins. Got an extra loaf-or-5 of bread? Maybe trade it for those juicy tomatoes, a pound of sugar snaps, or a glistening quart of strawberries. You're sick of seeing your own bread, and Farmer Joe is sick of lugging around his time-sensitive produce, and if you're lucky, both will want what the other has.

Enter the mysterious but heavenly greens I brought home last week. The guy at the stand said that the seeds for this plant are impossible to get, but he has secured them--from an international source--and grown them very carefully (read: stealthily). I have no idea what plant these leaves came from, but I have never tasted a green like them. Exquisite.

The moral of this story is: go to the farmer's market. See what the farmer is growing. Buy it, even if you've never heard of it. Take it home and eat it. You will thank me.

Ok, so, for dinner we made a gratin out of these babies. What's that? You want to learn about gratin? Well, ok... The term "gratin" (pronounced grah-tan, emphasis on the "tan") comes from an archaic French word (gratte) that referred to the part of a cooked dish that stuck to the pan and had to be scraped off, so as not to waste--see above photo. This description lent itself to cooks who later started baking things with an intentionally crusty top, achieved with bread crumbs or grated cheese. The term "au gratin" to us Americans usually means "with cheese on top, please," though "gratin" can be created in more than just this one way.

The process is easy and fairly quick, though it takes a few steps. I adapted the recipe from one of my new favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. For anyone trying to incorporate more veggies into their diet, this tome is highly recommended.

Greens Gratin
(serves 2, start to finish, about an hour)

1 big bunch of greens (whatever your pleasure), stemmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp flour (any flour, I used whole wheat)
1/4 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup broth (or 1 full cup milk if you have no broth)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup grated gruyere (or other swiss cheese)
dash nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
Salt & pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375ยบ. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Plunge your greens in and cook 3-5 minutes, until they are bright, bright green and tender. Drain and run under cold water. Squeeze dry and finely chop.
  2. Meanwhile, make your bechamel sauce (vocab alert: this is basically just a cheesy cream sauce). Heat oil in a small pot on medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent, 3ish minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Throw in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Stir together milk and broth and add to pot in three separate additions, whisking well after each pour. Bring back to a simmer in order to thicken. Taste, adding salt and pepper as needed.
  3. Now, butter a small dish and sprinkle about 1 Tbsp of your grated parmesan in it, shaking to coat. In a bowl, combine chopped greens, cream sauce, remaining cheeses, and a dash of nutmeg. Stir to combine and slop it in your prepared dish. Cover with bread crumbs that have been tossed with a little olive oil or melted butter (or just spray the whole thing with cooking spray). As we know, it's not a gratin without that crusty top.
  4. Place in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, or until a little bubbly on the sides and super crusty on top. Take out and let sit 7-10 minutes before serving. Serve with some good bread and a light, green salad.

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