I really want a big hug.
One with not very many words, and that is warm and nourishing.
To avoid the risk of sounding too desperate, I will just say that what I need sometimes, is comfort in the form of food.
Not in the “I eat my feelings” type of way, but something beautiful and warm and satisfying.
At work this week, I ran back and forth in my head, trying to figure out a special that would showcase what’s available in this current season, or week, even. I’m thinking root vegetables or brussels sprouts. I was getting tired of lentils and polenta. Though they are two of my favorite starches, I fear I was beating them into the ground.
Everybody’s doin’ brussels sprouts right now. Fair enough. They are delicious and green and lovely. But I wanted something with more browns and yellows because I needed something to carry these pork cheeks I got in from our purveyor. Yes, lovely little medallions of pork cheek. Tough little muscles, when cooked slow and low in wine and mirepoix and herbs, create this luscious thing.
I love the word ‘gratin’. It makes me want to cuddle up in a blanket and watch a movie that’ll give me the warm and fuzzies. I guess maybe I’m odd in that kind of way.
When it hit me, there was no turning back.
So I got to work and immediately started peeling vegetables. Making vegetable stock, braising the pork cheeks. I checked a few recipes for gratin and got a general idea of what I needed to do. I mean, it’s one of the oldest things in the book. You’re not creating anything new, just continuing its story.
It was lovely.
Warm. Cozy. Browns and golds.
So my friends, the weekend is upon us. I will be cooking for the likes of you, but you will be cooking for yourself, your families and probably friends. Try it. It makes good use of things that are in season, and are a lot more affordable than you think.
An 8×12 baking dish. Or something close. Preferably glass, but metal is fine. And go ahead and preheat your oven to about 350.
2lb sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/8inch thick
2lb butternut squash, peeled, sliced 1/8inch thick (you’ll just be using the neck, but save the fatter part for another meal.)
2lb rutabaga, peeled, sliced 1/8inch thick
1/2-3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 sprigs thyme
a little wedge of parmesan reggiano (for grating)
salt and pepper
4TB good butter
Take a TB of butter and rub it in the pan, all around. Up the sides. Get it all lookin’ real nice.
If you have a mandolin (read:death machine) use it, but I just used my sharp knife and worked a bit quicker. Basically, you want all the vegetables peeled and sliced before you get all of this going.
The bottom layer, lay down a nice spread of butternut squash, overlapping so there is no gap. (It’s seriously okay if there is. Just for presentation sake, overlap and make it look as legit as you can.)
Add a bit of salt and pepper. A light sprinkle of both, I guess I should say.
Add a layer of rutabaga, following the same process as the squash. Salt, pepper.
Add a layer of sweet potato, and well, you know how it goes.
Keep going until you run out.
After all your vegetables are snug and lookin’ good, go ahead and dump in your veg/chicken stock. If it looks like you need more, go ahead and add more. You want enough to coat the bottom of the pan. After that, throw down your thyme on top, somewhat spread out. Lay down the remaining tablespoons of butter over the top layer. Add more if you want, yo.
Wrap tightly with foil and toss it in the oven for an hour or so. Take it out, stick a knife in and if there is no resistance, you are good to go.
This is when you add your heavy cream. Eye this as well. If you think you need more, add it. But a little bit does go a long way. Also, freshly grate some of that parmesan cheese all over the top. Be generous.
Toss it back in the oven with the foil off for another 30 minutes, or until it’s all bubbly and brown and golden on top.
As you can see from my picture, it isn’t like Martha Stewart’s, but it’s rustic, which is okay, right?
Anyways, I really enjoyed it. It’s satisfying and rich and simple.
I guess, at the end of the day, I recognize that this is my life. Making food for others and myself.
I realize that in its simplicity, it is what keeps me going.
And for that, I am thankful.