Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Potato Side Dish for Easter

This year one of my clients has asked me to prepare her Easter dinner on Saturday and leave instructions for her so she can put the finishing touches on it after she returns from church on Sunday. I think this is a great idea—it is so hard to put a large family dinner on the table by midday if you have spent the morning in church (and probably attended an Easter Egg hunt afterwards).

Since I wanted to make sure the instructions that I will be leaving her for the reheating of the potato side dish are accurate, I made the dish this morning and reheated it for our dinner tonight. We really enjoyed it. I thought I would post it—I'm sure there are many people who would like to have a potato dish that can be made in its entirety ahead and simply reheated for dinner this Sunday.

The potato dish is simple. It's sort of an upscale version of twice baked potatoes—only it's baked in a shallow gratin instead of the scooped out skins. The baked potato flesh is mixed with wilted leeks (make sure to rinse the cut leeks in several changes of water to get rid of all the grit), cream, butter and sour cream. The dish is a little bit decadent, but I think that's OK for a holiday meal. The sour cream and butter could be reduced if you like—you are basically adding these things until you are pleased with the taste and the texture.

All kinds of other ingredients could also be included—goat cheese or blue cheese, cooked bacon, sautéed mushrooms, minced herbs, a little bit of Dijon mustard, etc. The gratin could be topped with buttered breadcrumbs, chopped nuts, grated cheese, or a combination of these things. But I really like the simplicity of the potatoes, leeks and cream. I love potatoes and leeks together. When I worked at The American Restaurant we had a potato gratin on the menu that was just sliced potatoes, leeks and cream—not even any cheese. It was really good.

I think Americans don't fully appreciate Leeks. They are incredibly flavorful. Not only do they play a wonderful supporting role in soups and vegetable medleys, they are an exquisite side vegetable all on their own—wilted with some butter and finished with cream. I remember the first time I really sat up and took notice of leeks was years ago when I made the Potato & Leek Soup from Richard Olney's Simple French Food. The soup is nothing more than sliced potatoes and leeks cooked in simmering salted water until tender. The soup is served with a slice of butter floating on the surface, melting into the soup. I'm not sure what made me try the recipe—there is almost nothing to it. But it was astonishingly good.

Today, since I was focused on testing a recipe (and replacing mulch in my garden), the rest of our evening meal was really simple: Pan-seared chicken with a quick pan sauce and roasted carrots. It was very satisfying—and it looked and tasted good enough to be Easter dinner.  Complicated is overrated.

Twice Baked Potato Gratin with Leeks

4 lbs. Russet Potatoes
6 to 10 T. unsalted butter, divided
4 leeks, white and pale green part only, halved, sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick and well-rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. heavy cream
1 1/4 to 1 3/4 c. sour cream, room temperature

Bake the potatoes at 375° until tender—1 to 1 1/4 hour.

While the potatoes bake, melt 4 T. butter in a sauté pan. Add the leeks and garlic along with a pinch of salt. Toss to coat with the butter. Cook, covered, over low heat until the leeks are tender—15 minutes or so.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the flesh. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and crush with a fork or potato masher. Add the leeks. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Warm the cream in the pan the leeks were in (if you like, add another 4 T. of butter to the pan and melt with the cream) and add to the potatoes. Stir to combine. Fold in the sour cream to taste and consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning. Transfer to a buttered 3-quart shallow gratin. Dot the surface with 1 to 2 T. of butter.

At this point, the potatoes may be baked immediately or covered and refrigerated overnight. If baking immediately, transfer to a 375° oven and bake until hot through and beginning to brown around the edges—about 30 minutes. If baking the next day, remove the casserole from the refrigerator, cover the pan with foil and place in a 375°. Bake for 30 min. Remove the foil and continue to bake until hot through, and beginning to brown around the edges—about 20 to 30 minutes more.  Serves 12.

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Katrina said...

Don't think I never grew up eating a single leek and well, they are in the onion family, right. ;)
BUT, I've eaten everything you've cooked in class with them and liked it! (Shh, don't tell my mom. oh, hi, mom.) I think I do like them better "hiding" in something like potatoes, rather than just leeks!

Cristie said...

I love leeks, can't get enough of them. I love this dish because it can be made ready before time. Thanks for posting. Happy Easter!