Creamy spring vegetable gratin (3-4 servings)

svc.jpg

Last weekend, I had a first: A loyal reader gave me a gift! Okay, so the reader was my aunt, but it still counts! During a lovely visit to Chapel Hill with my mother last weekend, she gave me a copy of Not Your Mother's Casseroles, which I had mentioned wanting to read in an earlier post.

The book is fabulous. Not all of the recipes are vegetarian, but a large percentage of them are, and most of those that contain meat could be made meatless. The book contains everything from breakfast recipes and appetizers to main dishes and sides, and I definitely recommend you get yourself a copy if you have a chance.

For my first experiment with the book, I decided to try out Durand's Creamy Spring Vegetable Gratin with Grana Padano. After consulting the Cook's Thesaurus (a great resource for ingredient substitutions) I learned that Grana Padano is a hard grating cheese that's very similar to Parmesan, only it's not made in Parma. The site suggested Parmesan as a substitute, as well as nutritional yeast. Having never cooked with nutritional yeast, I decided to give it a try, especially because (along with swapping out regular sour cream for the non-dairy kind) it could make the recipe vegan. Vegan casseroles are difficult to find, so I decided to give it a shot, and I was more than happy with the results.

I get annoyed by recipes that describe some of the preparation in the ingredient list and the rest of it in the directions. Why not just put it all in one place? You'll see below that I did!

You will need:

  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced less than 1/4" thin (watch a tutorial here)
  • 1 large leek, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed, and cut into 1" pieces (watch a tutorial here)
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and sliced as thinly as the fennel
  • 1 small onion, sliced into half-moons as thinly as the potato and fennel
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (vegan or regular)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (or grated Parmesan or Grana Padano)
  • splash of white wine (optional but recommended)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spray a 2 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place all the sliced vegetables and the garlic in a large bowl and toss to combine.
  3. Add the sour cream, salt, nutmeg, pepper, and half the nutritional yeast (and wine, if using) in a smaller bowl; stir to combine. Pour the sour cream mixture over the vegetable mixture and toss to coat.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish and sprinkle with the remaining nutritional yeast. Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid or foil and bake for another 30 minutes to allow the top to brown and crisp up. Serve immediately.

Durand's version doesn't mention mixing up the sour cream, etc. in a separate bowl, but I added that step because my mixture got a little clumpy. The back of our freezer is super cold, and the sour cream didn't spread too well because of where it had been sitting. I'll definitely take that extra step next time.

Bryan and I really enjoyed eating this. I served it as a main dish, along with some bread, just because we weren't terribly hungry after a mid-day feast at Med Deli earlier today. I think this would make a wonderful side dish, especially at a potluck or a holiday party. It's creamy and satisfying without being too heavy or rich. The vegetables were cooked just enough to be tender, and the top crust was crunchy and a little charred. I was half-expecting my old lady stomach to protest over the onions, but an hour after eating, I'm still doing fine! This was my first time cooking with fennel, and I'm happy with the turnout. This recipe produces a lovely tangle of vegetables that work well together without any one of them stealing the show. I can't wait to try other recipes from this book! Thanks, Aunt Jenny!