If you’re on a diet, don’t read this.
Parmesan-Cheddar-Dill Potato And Leek Gratin With Rachel's Favorite Salmon And Baby Greens
Cheesy, creamy, dairy-y, potato-y perfection.
There aren’t many things in this world that taste better than cheesy potatoes, and these are some of the best around (if I do say so myself). Last weekend, I went to the market in town and bought whatever produce was freshest. I ended up with leeks, potatoes, parsnips and some fresh herbs. After I cooked all of that into a big stew (that I ruined at the very last minute after three hours of nursing it to slow-cooked perfection when I dropped the corn starch in the pot), I was still left with about half a pound of potatoes and one leek, and, as they say: when one finds oneself with extra potatoes and leeks, one must smother them in cheese and cream and eat them ASAP. To be fair, “they” don’t say that, but they should. They really, really should.
Before last night, I’d actually never made potatoes au gratin, but the concept seemed straightforward enough (potatoes + cream + cheese = perfection), so I gave it a whirl and I can say that, without a doubt, this gratin is my new favorite side dish (slash next-day lunch). I could see using this recipe as a base for any number of unique, flavorful gratin, but, last night, I’d planned to make lemon-and-pepper salmon for dinner, so I wanted to make sure whatever flavors I decided to incorporate into the gratin would compliment the fish. I decided that dill and Parmesan would fit the bill, for a few reasons: first, dill and seafood are a classic combination, so it was a no-brainer to add some fresh dill to the gratin, which also help cut through some of the rich, creaminess of the dish; and second, Parmesan (specifically, Parmigiano-Reggiano) has a distinctly Mediterranean vibe and, to me, the fresh, citrusy-lemon flavor in the salmon marinade is also molto Italiana. I added a pretty healthy amount of sharp white cheddar cheese to the gratin as well, because Parmesan can be pretty…pungent, due to its being a hard, aged cheese. The cheddar helps calm that particular tasting note down just enough to round out all the flavors in this dish, leaving you with a gratin that’s the perfect balance of sharp and smooth. To that end, I prefer using leeks in this recipe over onions. Leeks are milder and, even though I love caramelized onions, I wouldn’t want to bite into this gratin and know I was eating onion – I think the nice part about this dish is that the flavors all blend so well, and an onion here would likely overpower some of the other flavors I’m trying to highlight. (That, and, I had leftover leeks.)
Aside from the ingredients I’ve already mentioned, there’s both milk and cream (and OK, butter) in this baby. (Like I said, those on diets need not read on.) You combine the aforementioned holy grail of dairy and heat it, then melt the cheese into it, along with some garlic, salt and pepper, and what you’re left with is a super creamy, thick, rich sauce to slather on the potatoes before you bake them into fork-tender medallions of carby, cheesy perfection.
I served this alongside Rachel’s Favorite Salmon (because it’s my girlfriend Rachel’s favorite salmon), which is a simple lemon-and-pepper roasted salmon that couldn’t be easier or more delicious. Lastly, in a pathetic attempt to put something remotely healthy on the plate (did I mention the lemon-and-pepper adheres to the salmon by way of a healthy dose of full-fat mayonnaise?), I dressed some tender greens with lemon juice, olive oil and capers, and plated that alongside the fish and gratin. Here’s how I got everything ready:
Ingredients (for the gratin):
Approximately 10 baby Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean and roughly peeled (I like to leave some skin on because they’re packed with additional flavor, plus I like my potatoes to look farmhouse-y and rustic)
1/4 cup fresh cut leeks
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup low fat milk
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese
1 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped
Slice the potatoes very thinly and keep them from oxidizing (i.e., turning gross and brown) by keeping them in a bowl of water until you’re ready to assemble the gratin
Slice the leeks and heat them over medium heat in a skillet with olive oil and cook until just browning, remove from heat*
In a separate pan, heat the butter over medium heat until just melted, and then add the flour, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thick and the flour is no longer dry
Add the cream, milk, garlic and salt to the butter/flour mixture and bump the heat to medium-high until the mixture is simmering, and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
Add the Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of the cheddar cheese (reserving 1/4 cup for later), and stir until cheese is melted, then remove from heat (at this point, your kitchen will smell a bit like Alfredo sauce because, guess what…you’ve basically just made Alfredo sauce with the addition of cheddar cheese – and you thought I was only giving you one recipe today!)
To assemble: place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of a buttered (why not, right?) 9×9 casserole dish, followed by a layer of leeks and a layer of the cream sauce. Repeat. Cover the dish with foil and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 60 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the top of the gratin, along with the fresh dill, and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until golden brown and piping hot. Note: This recipe doesn’t make a massive pile of gratin – it makes a thin layer that’s more than enough for two people, but, if you need more, just adjust the recipe by doubling the ingredients and using only what you need of the cream and cheese mixture – it should be very wet, but not soupy.
*I use the stalk of the leek, not the super green leaves. It’s slightly sweeter and has a more mild flavor.
*Ingredients (for the salmon):
2 3-oz salmon fillets, skin off
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp lemon juice
Combine the mayo, pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice and slather over the top of the salmon fillets. Place the fillets on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees, or until the salmon is cooked through. Since I made this at the same time as my gratin, I just slid it in the oven for the last 20 minutes of the gratin’s cooking time.
*In the U.S., you can buy pre-made lemon-and-pepper spice rub in the spice aisle. In Scotland, apparently, you cannot. This came out tasting great, but, if you want to save time, you would simply spread the mayo over the top of the salmon fillets and sprinkle the pre-made seasoning over the top of it in an even coating.
Ingredients (for the greens):
1 bag baby greens (tender greens, watercress, etc.)
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp non-nonpareil capers
salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.