Perhaps you’ve been wondering when I was going to post a recipe for a gratin. My blog is still in its early days, but since I called it Gratinee, I figured it was time.
What does gratinee mean? Its just another word for au gratin, and was the more popular term at the turn of the last century. Both of these words refer to any dish that is topped with cheese or a coating of bread crumbs, then browned in the oven to form a crisp golden crust. Such dishes are usually a combination of potatoes, vegetables, seafood, or meats, bound with a sauce like bechamel. Potato gratins are my favourite because the starch from the potatoes combined with some milk or cream creates a nice little sauce on its own. Gratins are so easy to make and are the ultimate in comfort food. They can be sinfully rich or relatively healthy–with the use of low-fat milk instead of butter and cream.
Gratins are a little retro, I know. But tell me, who can resist a mac n’ cheese with a breadcrumb topping, hot and bubbling from the oven? Or scalloped potatoes, sliced paper thin and layered with dots of butter and Gruyere? I can’t.
The possibilities of gratins are endless, and I offer you this simple recipe for one of my favourite weeknight suppers.
Potato & Eggplant Gratinee
for the eggplant:
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
For the gratin:
1 pound potatoes (about 4 or 5)
2 1/2 cups half & half, or milk
3/4 cup Gruyere cheese
1/8 teaspoon herbs de provence
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs* or panko
1 teaspoon olive oil
1) Preheat oven to 400F. Slice the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Let drain on a rack or in a colander for half an hour to release the bitterness. Dry off with paper towel and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
2) Bake eggplant for about 25 minutes, or until well-browned. Turn over and bake for another 10 minutes. In the meantime, peel the potatoes and slice very thinly–preferably on a mandoline.
3) Layer the potato slices, eggplant, and cheese in an ovenproof gratin or casserole dish, sprinkling each layer with the herbs, salt and pepper, and dotting with bits of the butter and garlic. Be sure to finish the top layer with cheese.
4) Heat the cream or milk and pour it over the potatoes. Make sure it comes about three-quarters of the way up the side of the dish, not more. You may need a little more or less liquid, depending on the size of your potatoes and how thinly you slice them.
5) Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the top is brown and the potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes.
* Homemade breadcrumbs are much better than the store-bought kind. I start with leftover bread from the bakery; its good if the bread is a little stale. I tear the bread into pieces and pulse in a food processor until it’s coursely chopped. As an alternative, you might want to use Panko, the Japanese style of breadcrumbs that are popular these days. They’re easily available and work really well in gratin dishes.