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time’s a-wastin’

March 05 2009 by Kristin at The Kitchen Sink in Recipe,Side » 17 comments

gratin

March, true to form, charged  in last weekend like a lion—a big angry cat, with an unruly mane and a snarling roar.  On Sunday—the very first day of March—we had snow, blustery wind and all-around dreariness.  I’m happy to report, that as the first week of March has inched on, the month is taking on a much more lamb-like demeanor: blue skies, temperatures cracking 60 (!) degrees, and even a few buds bravely sprouting up in the garden plots that line the Loop.

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I’ve never run a marathon, nor do I care to, but I imagine that March is quite similar to “hitting the wall” near the end of the race.  It’s that mile—or, in our case, month—that plays tricks on your mind.  You’re so close to the end, but so, so far away.

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It can be tough to take, March.  Which I suppose is why so many people—college co-eds and others—fly the coop, boarding planes pointed beachward, for a taste of the summer that’s still quite a ways off.  I can’t blame them.

Me, I have issues with March too, not least of which is that it’s the month that heralds the end of winter’s immoderation.  The warmer temperatures serve as a reminder that one should start to reduce her consumption of butter, cream, cheese and the like.  That thin, extra layer of fat (which I prefer to call “warmth”) might have come in handy as you walked the windy, mean streets of winter, but it really serves no role when the days of sundresses or, worse, swim suits arrive.

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So my solution (and it’s an illogical one, I’m aware) is this.  March is my time to get the immoderation out of my system.  It’s time to trot out the decadent, comforting, homey dishes that scream winter and let them have one last hurrah.  Now, if you’re one of those coop-fliers who’s got a date with a bikini sometime this month, I don’t necessarily recommend this plan to you.  But if your “Spring Break,” like mine, involves staying put in your very own chilly hometown (and, for me, a weekend in Boston!  This weekend, in fact!  So excited!), this plan will do you just fine.  April and May were made for the sundress/swimsuit issue.  How else do you explain all the virtuous asparagus and rhubarb involved during those months?

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So, anyway, back to March.  We’ve already lost five days, so it’s time to really buckle down.  Dig out your recipes for braises, stews, puddings, pastas and get going!  Time’s a-wasting.

As evidence that I’m putting my money where my mouth is, I want you to know that I made this gratin on the first of March, and gratins are the crown jewel of the Moderation-Be-Damned-in-March Plan.  This gratin starts with slips of thinly sliced Yukon golds and celery root—gnarled wintery vegetables if ever there were any—and curls of Spanish onion all packed neatly in a baking dish.  Over these layers goes a lush, creamy sauce, flavored with nutmeg, fresh thyme and garlic.  Once the vegetables are good and sauced, they are covered with foil and baked in a very hot oven for forty-five bubbly minutes, rendering the potatoes and celery root soft and fragrant.  Then, the foil comes off for about 10 minutes—to let the sauce thicken up.  In the final, lily-gilding stage, you top the now-molten concoction with some shreds of fontina cheese and slide it back into the oven until the cheese melts and goes golden.

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This gratin is many things—hearty, soothing and, of course, delicious—but it simply is not June or July fare.  In fact, I’m not so sure it’s even April or May fare—save for Easter supper or somesuch special occasion.  No, it’s meant for March, I tell you.  So, hop to it.

Potato and Celery Root Gratin
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and thinly sliced in half-moons
2 1-pound celery roots, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
2 pounds potatoes (such as Yukon golds), peeled, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 sprigs thyme
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup canned chicken broth
8 ounces Fontina cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400° F. Mix salt, pepper and nutmeg in small bowl. Sprinkle half of onions in 16-cup oval gratin dish or 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Top with half of celery root and half of potatoes. Sprinkle half of spice mixture over. Repeat layering with remaining shallots, celery root, potatoes and spice mixture.

Melt butter in medium saucepan.  Whisk in the flour, stirring and cooking for a minute or two until the flour is browned and nutty-smelling.  Whisk in the milk.  Add the thyme and garlic and cook, whisking, for five or so minutes until the liquid thickens.  Remove from heat, remove the thyme and garlic with a slotted spoon, and whisk in the chicken broth.  Pour the sauce over the vegetables. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake until vegetables are almost tender, about 45 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 450° F. Press potatoes with spatula to even thickness. Bake uncovered until juices thicken, about 10 minutes. Top with cheese. Bake until cheese melts and browns, about 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before serving.

Note: I made this the day before serving.  To do so, I completed the recipe, let it cool and refrigerated over night.  The next day, I let it come to room temperature and re-warmed it in a 450° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until warmed through.  Worked like a charm.

17 comments so far. »
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  1. brilynn says on March 05 2009 at 8:12 pm:

    Nothing beats cheesy comfort food! Looks great!

  2. Whitney Merritt says on March 05 2009 at 8:19 pm:

    I love the browned cheese on the top! I am currently in a tank and short PJs rather than flannel…it feels wonderful out!

    I’m just ready for my skin to not be zapped by all the heater dryness!

  3. Alaskan Andi says on March 05 2009 at 9:31 pm:

    Aww quit your whining. :-) We won’t have buds on the trees for another month yet and it is snowing fairly hard right now. Serenity now! Thanks for the yummy recipe – it looks like the perfect dish to turn to whilst we are still in “hibernation”!

  4. sue bette says on March 06 2009 at 5:59 am:

    I have turned into a bit of a celery root fanatic, so I am adding this recipe to my growing list.
    Your tips on March survival are much appreciated – I am trying to stay upbeat, but so far the ice and mud is getting the better of me! I am totally ready for asparagus and some sunshine.

  5. Michelle says on March 06 2009 at 6:05 am:

    Thanks for making me smile this morning. And I’m with you – let’s worry about swimsuits and sundresses in April. I like my layer of warmth and I might still need it with this finicky March weather!
    Great post!
    http://oneordinaryday.wordpress.com/

  6. Farmer Gal says on March 06 2009 at 8:43 am:

    Lovin’ this blog, let me tell ya’. This post is right on! We’ve had some nice weather, which jolted me with the reminder of bikini season on the way. (Not like I’d ever wear a bikini at this juncture, but just the thought of bearing my white legs is enough to make me shudder).

    I’ve never used celery root, but if any recipe can coax me into giving it a try, it’s this one! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Jessica Hawkins says on March 06 2009 at 9:04 am:

    I honestly do not know where you find the time to consistently write posts, create such beautiful food, and work as a lawyer! I have many things I would like to accomplish each day but I am so consumed by my job that when I finally make it home, I want to melt into my bed. How do you do it?

  8. Anticiplate says on March 06 2009 at 9:21 am:

    This is a perfect march pick me up. But, I agree, dont go to the beach after eating this one:)

  9. Maggie says on March 06 2009 at 1:38 pm:

    Have a great time in Boston! I am making this tonight and am hoping I don’t screw it up!

  10. Kelly says on March 06 2009 at 2:22 pm:

    One of my mom’s friends made that gratin for a pot luck and it was SO good! Your photos are lovely, as is your blog!

  11. Jennifer says on March 06 2009 at 4:22 pm:

    You write so beautifully!!!
    Summer started here a few weeks ago. I think I am behind on the immoderation!! oppss!! :)

  12. The Duo Dishes says on March 06 2009 at 6:43 pm:

    Potatoes and celeriac are a good pair. We’ve had them mashed together, and that was tasty. Why not baked with cheese!

  13. Amy says on March 07 2009 at 2:38 pm:

    onion and potato gratins are my favorite!!! i have to make this asap! unfortunately its 70 degrees here in delaware, for some strange reason, so ill have to wait until it cools down again to normal march temperatures!!
    -lohrpie

    http://asliceoflohrpie.blogspot.com

  14. we are never full says on March 08 2009 at 12:24 pm:

    wow… this looks amazing. you are so right about march – this is a perfectly written piece. i feel exactly the same way! a few more weeks of winter dishes, but i’m ready for spring – even if my body isn’t!

  15. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on March 10 2009 at 7:42 am:

    brilynn: Well said!

    Whitney: That cheese is the best part!

    Andi: It’s a tough road for you Alaskans this time of year, I’ll bet. I’ve only been there once, in July/August, and it was even cold then!

    sue bette: Oh, I’m still loving the celeriac too. So, so good.

    Michelle: Well, now you’ve made me smile! Thanks.

    Farmer Gal: Thank you! And do give celery root a try. It’s not the most beautiful vegetable at the market, but it’s so delicious.

    Jessica: I do most of my cooking and photos on the weekend, so that helps. Especially in the winter, when there is very little sunlight left by the time I get home from work (same goes for my energy!).

    Anticiplate: Ha! I agree, even though I’ve lightened (!) the original recipe a bit.

    Maggie: I want to hear how it turned out!

    Kelly: Thanks!

    Jennifer: Thanks so much!

    The Duo Dishes: I’ve had them mashed together too, with mascarpone. Swoon.

    Amy: The east coast had it good last weekend. I got a taste of it while I was in Boston. But I think it’s back to winter, now, so gratin time it is!

    we are never full: Thank you! And, yes, spring really needs to hurry along already.

  16. jillgior says on March 17 2009 at 6:50 am:

    Just thought I’d let you know that I tried this recipe last weekend. It was delicious and I was super excited to see what the hell celery root looked like! I’m thinking I didn’t let the broth simmer down enough, but I ended up having to pour a lot of liquid out of the casserole after I took it out of the oven. Did this happen to you?

  17. thecatskillkiwi says on March 19 2009 at 3:53 pm:

    potato gratin is one of my favorite things, and now with celery root, YUM i will be making this in the immediate future!
    thanks

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