Root Vegetable Gratin

I started preparing this dish for guests about ten years ago, and now I cannot entertain in the fall or winter without a request for it. I’m happy to comply. Root Vegetable Gratin is now a selection on our ‘Thanksgiving Made Easy’ order form.

Classic Béchamel
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
6 cups whole (or 2 percent) milk, hot
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon butter, softened
1½ quarts (6 cups) béchamel *See recipe below
2 small smoked chili peppers (I use anchos or dried smoked jalapenos)
3 medium russet potatoes (about 3 pounds),  peeled and thinly sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1½ cups fresh or canned roasted red peppers, cut into strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 medium sweet potato (8 ounces), peeled and thinly sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 small or ½ large rutabaga (about 12 ounces), peeled and thinly sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds

Prepare Béchamel: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste bubbles; don’t let it brown. After 2 or 3 minutes, whisk in the hot milk. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring or whisking constantly until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat and cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Prepare Gratin: Preheat the oven to 350F°F and grease a 12- to 14-inch round baking dish or a 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking dish with the butter.

Simmer the béchamel over low heat, add the whole dried chili, and steep for about 10 minutes. Remove the chili and discard.

Peel vegetables and slice them very thinly on a mandoline to 1/8-inch thickness. Place half of the russet potato slices in a single layer on the bottom of the dish. Top with a third of the red pepper strips. Season with salt and pepper. Evenly spread 1½ cups of the béchamel on top,covering the potatoes and red pepper strips. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the cheddar. Arrange the sweet potato slices over top,slightly overlapping in a spiral pattern. Season with salt and pepper and top with another ⅓ of the red pepper strips. Again top with 1½ cups bechamel followed by 1 cup of cheddar. Add the slices of rutabaga, slightly overlapping in a spiral pattern,and strew with the remaining red peppers strips. Again, add 1½ cups bechamel followed by 1 cup of cheddar. For the final layer,arrange the remaining slices of russet potato on top,slightly overlapping in a spiral pattern. Season with salt and pepper. Put the remaining 1½ cups béchamel and 1 cup cheddar on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top of the gratin is bubbly and nicely browned, about 20 minutes. A knife inserted in the center of the gratin won’t meet any resistance, but should pierce easily into the fully cooked and soft root vegetables.

Serving suggestion: This is great to eat piping hot right out of the oven, but it’s also good reheated the next day.

Variations:

* To lighten this dish, you can make a cornstarch/water slurry, stir it into chicken broth,and thicken simmering until it achieves a béchamel-like consistency.
* Omit the chili pepper and/or roasted red pepper.
* Substitute turnips for the rutabaga.

Nutrition: Roasted red pepper strips add flavor, color between the layers, and lots of vitamin C.

Economy: $$$

Note: This recipe has been adapted from the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.

Maple Pumpkin Polenta

Yesterday, Gigi Hudson Valley participated in a great event in support of Olana, the historic estate just outside Hudson. The fundraiser was entitled “Eat for Art’s Sake.” Each participating Hudson Valley eatery who volunteered their services, created a dish to be sampled at the gala, inspired by one of Frederick Church’s paintings (the artist who also built Olana in 1870.)

Gigi’s owner, Laura Pensiero,  chose “Clouds Over Olana”.

Inspired by the painting, Gigi Hudson Valley presented a Vegetable Hash over Maple Pumpkin Polenta. While the dish was not a literal interpretation of the painting, it served as inspiration, and it allowed Gigi HV to take advantage of great local and seasonal ingredients! As Laura noted, “It’s a very colorful plate that went with the back drop of the setting and  looked like a fall day. What we were trying to do was grab the season and bring that into the food, which this painting seemed to represent best.  We used Hudson Valley ingredients: New York State maple syrup and polenta from Wild Hive Farm and Store, in Clinton Corners,  with pumpkin from Mead Orchards, in Tivoli, as well as carrots, turnips. squash, and celery.”

We thought we would share the recipe for the Maple Pumpkin Polenta, enjoy!

Maple Pumpkin Polenta

This is among the most popular side dishes during the fall and winter months at Gigi Trattoria. The addition of pumpkin and maple syrup adds a seasonal and a festive hue to polenta. We buy ground cornmeal from Wild Hive Farm in nearby Clinton Corners. Any coarse grain cornmeal can substitute. Enjoy the slightly sweet notes balanced by a little spice from cayenne pepper.

Serves 4

1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ cups finely ground yellow cornmeal
1½ cups pumpkin puree (boiled,drained,and pureed or 100 percent natural canned pumpkin)
⅓ cup pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon butter

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and the olive oil, reduce the heat to simmer, and gradually whisk in the cornmeal, a small amount at a time, to prevent clumping. Reduce the heat to low and cook the polenta, stirring often, until tender and it is pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and cayenne and cook another minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano and the butter. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm.

Nutrition: Polenta (cornmeal) is a whole grain. The pumpkin contributes enough beta-carotene to supply about 25 percent of your daily needs of vitamin A.

Note: This recipe can be found in the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.

Grilling with Black Currant BBQ Sauce

Ahhh, the start of summer; long glorious days at the beach, the pool, the kids driving you nuts…Joking…We all love summer. One of my favorite parts of the season is all the great grilling you can do and all the interesting ingredients you can use! I’ll be sharing some new ideas, delicious recipes and helpful tips throughout the summer that will help you maximize that grilling goodness!

Take black currants for example. Probably not something you would have thought of for the grill! But, they make a great BBQ sauce. Not only are they delicious, but they are one of nature’s most potent anti-oxidants! These little berries contain two times the antioxidant power of blueberries, four times the vitamin C of oranges, and twice the potassium of bananas.

Since the currant bush likes hot, humid summers, and cold winters, it’s perfectly at home in the Hudson Valley. Black and red currants have a tart flavor, but are great in jellies, sauces, and pies. They’re also the main flavor in cassis, the French liqueur.  But I digress…

Black Currant BBQ Sauce

1 pint fresh black currants
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely diced shallots
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon butter
Salt

To prepare the BBQ sauce, in a medium saucepan, combine the currants, raisins, ½ cup water, brown sugar, ketchup, rice vinegar, shallots, raisins, mustard, and cayenne and stir to combine. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, using a rubber spatula to push as much sauce as possible through the mesh. Season the sauce to taste with salt.

What I especially like about currants is how their slight bitterness and astringency marries perfectly with richer, more flavorful meats like lamb. While we’ve prepared it with lamb for this post, this sauce is also wonderful on grilled, seared, or roasted salmon; the acidity of the currants works well with the fattiness of the fish. It is also good on beef kebobs, prawns, and venison medallions.

If you are too busy to make the BBQ sauce, you can always pop into Gigi Market and pick yourself up a container. Enjoy!

-Laura

To learn more about currants, visit the website of Hudson Valley expert on all things currant, Greg Quinn.

 

Note: This recipe can be found in the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.