The cooking term "gratin" ("Grah-tahN" with a nasal French twist on the final N), along with its cousins "au gratin" and "gratinee," usually makes me think of something sinfully rich, loaded with butter and cheese and heavy cream.
But "gratin" doesn't have to translate as "heavy." What makes a gratin "au gratin" is simply a topping - bread crumbs, butter, cheese and the like - that's put under a broiler until the topping is crisp.
Here's a quick example, inspired by a friend's remark about a delicious mashed-potato-and-spinach blend served at a local Bosnian restaurant, given a quick gratinee treatment to add texture and flavor interest:INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
Two medium baking potatoes
1 large garlic clove
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 bunch fresh spinach
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or similar grating cheese
Additional 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
1. Peel the potatoes, cut them into 1/2-inch cubes, and put in a pan with salted water to cover. Add the peeled garlic clove and salt to taste, bring to the boil, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain, add the milk and butter, and mash. (I like to use a hand masher or fork to retain some texture in the mashed potatoes, but a beater is fine if you prefer yours creamy.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, wash the spinach and put into another pot with just the water that clings to the leaves. Add a little salt to taste and cook over high heat just until the leaves wilt. Drain and chop, and mix the chopped spinach into the mashed potatoes. (NOTES: If you like, you can stop at this point and serve the potato-spinach blend as a vegetable dish. Also, if you must, frozen chopped spinach will work. But fresh is easy, cheaper and better.)
3. Put the blended potatoes and spinach in an oven-proof dish. Mix the bread crumbs and cheese together (along with the optional extra butter, if calories aren't an issue) and season with a bit of salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Spread evenly over the top, place under the broiler (or toaster oven!) and heat until the topping is crisp and brown.
WINE MATCH: I generally think of matching wine to the main course - in this instance, roast chicken - considering side dishes only to ensure that they won't actually war with the wine. In this case, a just-arrived Domaine Dupeuble 2000 Beaujolais Nouveau filled the bill with both the main dish and the gratin.Let us hear from you!
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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Roast pork and sauerkraut (Nov. 21)
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