Sky diving into a gratin.

November 16, 2014 § 4 Comments

Illustration 2

I’m thinking a lot lately about my relationship to food in the restaurant vs. the home kitchen, because I’ve begun working with a small, boutique food PR firm in San Francisco. I never expected to be the invisible liaison between chefs/artisan food crafters/cookbook writers and the media – but I am now, and I am in love with it. Every day I learn more about food and the incredible people who make it, dipping my toes into the work of some 20 different restaurants, chefs, and cookbook writers – nothing could be more inspiring to an obsessive home cook.

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Like all 9-5 jobs bookended by longish commutes, this one leaves little time for lingering over my own stove on weekdays. Instead I immerse myself in cooking on weekends, like this past Sunday morning when I camped out in my kitchen for long enough to stock up for the week ahead with:

  • smoked paprika and cumin-roasted roots over lentils with parsley, lemon and walnuts
  • a pot of celeriac, potato and apple soup
  • a dish of baked apple-raisin-cinnamon oatmeal

By Thursday I will be weary of soup and of carrots, but on Sunday I feel content because I’ve made something good, and frugal, and more satisfying still because my hands were the ones tossing beets and carrots with spices and olive oil. Preparing for the week makes me feel connected to the generations of women that came before me, and to my own grandmother, whose house always smelled of frying sausages and pancakes in the morning, and who kept bottomless boxes of ancient comic books for us to pour over in quiet delight between meals.  Her food was always about comfort, but also about making something absolutely delicious on a budget, the kind of thing Depression-era-born women like my 90-yr-old grandmother made into an art.

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Those cozy kinds of meals are the ones I know I will always come back to, and this one, adapted from The Yellow House, is one of them. It is more of a set of guidelines than a recipe anyone needs follow absolutely. The base is a mixture of cooked grains, wilted greens, egg, a little cheese, and softened aromatics. Then comes the real magic – the topping. Instead of asking you to pour generous amounts of heavy cream over the dish like a traditional gratin does, this gratin is finished with a custardy quilt of whole milk yogurt, eggs, a dash of nutmeg and a bit more cheese. Pop it all in the oven and 45 minutes later you’ll find that yogurt-y mixture has set – and tastes like a layer of savory cheesecake sunken into a bed of whole grains and greens. It’s terribly exciting to pull out of the oven, and at the same time, nothing short of sitting on the floor reading Donald Duck with a plate of pancakes and sausages in my lap and my family’s chatter in the background, could make me feel quite so content.

Greens and Grains Browned Yogurt Gratin
adapted from Sarah at The Yellow House

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 shallots or one onion, minced
  • 2 cups raw greens and a tablespoon or two of complementary herbs, chopped finely (If you use kale, chard, or collards, de-rib and de-stem them first)
  • 1 cup of 1/2 inch cubed and roasted winter squash (optional – my addition)
  • 1 cup parmesan, grated (another cheese could also work)
  • 3 cups grains, cooked (I usually choose quinoa and millet for their protein and fast cooking time)
  • 1 cup thick, Greek-style yogurt (OR: just plain, whole milk yogurt works fine too!)
  • 3 eggs
  • Sea salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Paprika or nutmeg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Butter a 3-4 quart baking dish.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring a bit, until the shallot begins to become translucent and aromatic, about 3-5 minutes. Add the chopped greens and give a few quick stirs to coat in the oil and allium mixture. If using kale or collards sauté to remove the raw edge for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until just warm.

Once greens mixture is cool, mix the grains, the greens mixture (I like kale with a bit of sage here), the squash, and 3/4 cup parmesan in a large mixing bowl,. Taste for salt and pepper and season if necessary. Then, stir in just one of the eggs and mix until well incorporated. Spread the mixture in an even layer in the prepared baking dish.

In another bowl, mix the yogurt, remaining two eggs, and remaining 1/4 cup parmesan. Throw in a few pinches of paprika or nutmeg if you’d like (I like nutmeg). Spread this mixture in an even layer over the grains and greens.

Bake, 35 minutes or so, until the egg-yogurt topping sets and becomes speckled brown. Serve hot.

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Quality control.

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    Though summer clings to the tomatoes, crouching in the garden this evening picking the last beans, I could virtually taste the incoming autumn in the crisp, spiced air. Finally. It's hard to stay mad at Monday when your morning starts like this. Little maple syrup-sweetened buckwheat-almond muffins studded with raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries were just in time for the first fall leaves and a little chill in the air. Pairing suggestion: poems from the Fall section of Sharon Olds' Stag's Leap. Though the garden is growing apple-sized melons, I like to pretend we're growing melon-sized apples. Either way, it's magic to walk out the front door 30 steps to pick fruit and collect eggs for breakfast. Found this camping souvenir today. It brings back memories of lazy July hours reading by the lake; eating pesto-tossed pasta with home-grown green beans under the tall pines; watching a summer thunderstorm pour rain into the clear clear water for all the world as if a vast waterfall had descended from the sky. This is what happens when you're searching for a perfect yellow cake recipe (and @tastingtable's handy guide hasn't yet been published) and hours later you come back to Dorie's Perfect Party Cake and think "hmmm I bet I can make that sans lemon". So you make those substitutions and cross your fingers. Fast forward to cake test #2 cooling on the counter (this one seems ok!) and realizing you've got just enough of everything to make a little whipped cream filling studded with blackberries and a malted fudge frosting and you finally finish and despite all odds the cake survives a two hour trip on winding roads and to tell the truth you can't stop grinning ear to ear because it feels like you just conquered some kind of internal summit. 💪 .
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