I've been eating a lot of vegetarian fare lately. The more I read about the modern food system the more I find myself veering away from eating meat. Not that I have declared myself a vegetarian but I have been challenging myself to make a good percentage of our meals meat-free. Sounds great - even noble if you consider the environmental and animal welfare issues - but how does it work in practice? Keeping a mod-vegetarian diet was pretty doable in the summer months when I crave light, fresh fare, but now that the temperatures have dropped and the gloves and scarves are making regular appearances, I find myself craving hearty foods that are as satisfying as a winter roast or stew. This recipe, and several others that I'm equally excited to share with you in upcoming posts, is one of my favorite vegetarian dishes that won't leave you wondering "where's the main course?"
This vegetarian entree is a lighter and zippier riff off the classic dish Potato Gratin. The potato version has it's place - no one would argue that this decadent, starchy, creamy side dish isn't absolutely divine when done well - but I wanted to create something that could serve as an entree. I replaced the potatoes with loads of vibrant, leafy swiss chard and aromatic leeks. The béchamel sauce is jazzed up with a grate of nutmeg and a generous pinch of cayenne pepper. The cayenne pepper gave the dish a brightness that keeps you coming back for "just one more bite". Top it all off with crunchy parmesan panko breadcrumbs and you've got yourself a fabulous version of a steakhouse classic side dish (and you won't miss the steak, I promise).
As a side note, I served this along side a mixed green salad dressed in a light red wine mustard vinaigrette. The light, fresh salad served as a nice yin to the gratin's rich, creamy yang.
Zippy Chard and Leek Gratin
2 big bunches swiss chard
3 large leeks, washed and sliced into thin rounds
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Remove bottom 2" of chard stems and discard. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch chard leaves 2 minutes and transfer to ice bath (or place in a colander and run under cold water). Using a clean kitchen towel, squeeze excess liquid from chard leaves. Coarsely chop blanched leaves and set aside.
Heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. Cook leeks over medium heat for 7 minutes, or until tender. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add in chard leaves, stir to combine, and lower heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a separate small pot, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add in milk and vegetable stock and raise heat to medium. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and creamy. Stir in gruyere and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Grate in the nutmeg directly into the pot and stir in cayenne pepper. Pour cheese sauce over the chard and leek mixture and stir to combine.
Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in panko breadcrumbs and remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese and toast, stirring constantly, for 1 minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer chard mixture to a buttered 8" x 8" baking dish. Top with buttery, panko breadcrumbs and bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown.