“Une bien cuite, s’il vous plaît !” (One well cooked, please!) Do you remember hearing these words while walking into a French bakery? This is pretty much a buzz sentence, a language you need to be able to talk to order your baguette à la boulangerie. Some people like their baguette to be well cooked, very crunchy, with a lot of crust — le croûton (the end part) being the best part, really — while others prefer theirs hardly cooked, bien blanche (almost white). It is a question of taste and preference. The story of le gratin, on the other hand, is something else altogether.
Gratin: n. m. French word meaning “ce qui attache et rissole au fond d’un récipient de cuisson, et qu’on ne détache qu’en grattant”. From the verb, gratter, to scrape. In other words, any food that sticks and browns in a dish, which is scraped to be removed. Not a pretty thought when you first think about it, but in the end, tell me, is there really anything better than that?
Gratins are not necessarily supposed to look clean. In fact, the messier, the better since the ultimate pleasure while eating them is to get that very bottom part, with a spoon or fork — your fingers? Scrape, scrape. At home, P. and I fight over it. Eh dis-donc, laisse-moi du grillé! (Eh, leave me some of the brown part!) Grillé, cramé, brûlé, so many words to mean brown or burnt, with tiny nuances each time. But we like the top part too, ce qui est gratiné , you know, the darker bits on top. And the inside too, moist and juicy layers of vegetables. In short, we love gratins.
The traditional French gratin dauphinois is a dish made of potatoes and milk, cooked in the oven. We all have a recipe that we like best. My mum makes a fantastic one, which I love, and she probably knows this since every time I visit, it never fails: one meal will include un gratin dauphinois. I wanted to try something slightly different, and include a vegetable I am particularly fond of. Keeping with the tradition, I used potatoes (les pommes de terre) as a base — this is not a surprise, especially considering that I also have an Irish hubbie to feed — but decided to enhance the taste with the addition of another root vegetable, celeriac or commonly known as celery root (le céleri rave).
Celeriac is not as frequently cooked or liked, but in our house it is. J’adore le céleri, especially prepared grated in a salad with a strong mustard vinaigrette. Cooked or raw, it should definitely stay on the list of those vegetables you do not avoid buying. It is good! For my dish, I infused the milk and cream preparation with fresh thyme and a few garlic cloves so as to strengthen the mild flavor provided by the dairy products. No need of cheese, which I think would overwhelm the overall taste. I find that using celeriac is a great addition, turning this gratin into a lighter and more tasty dish. The two vegetables are arranged in successive layers before being cooked in the oven between 40 to 50 mns, depending on the size of the dishes you use. Leaving your gratin longer in the oven makes it darker on top too, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. This means that you will have to scrape more for the tiny little pieces that we personally love at the bottom. Le fond du plat ! And fight over it too! In situations like this, if you are the strongest — or the greediest — , you win!
(For 4 to 6 people)
- 1 lb + 5 oz potatoes, yellow firm flesh
- 14 oz celeriac
- 3 garlic cloves
- 7 fluid oz whole milk (7/8 cup)
- 7 fluid oz heavy cream (7/8 cup)
- 3 thyme twigs
- 1 Tbsp parsley, chopped finely
- Pour the milk and cream in a pot and bring to a boil. Add two peeled garlic cloves (crushed) and the thyme twigs. Stop the heat and cover to let infuse for 30 mns. Filter the milk/cream preparation.
- In the meantime, peel the potatoes and celeriac and slice them thinly (use a mandoline if you have one).
- Place the vegetables in two different plates and season with salt and pepper.
- Take a large oven dish or individual gratin dishes. Rub them with a garlic clove and grease them largely with butter.
- Arrange the slices of vegetables alterning layers. Add the chopped parsley to the milk/cream preparation and pour over the vegetables. Add a dash of nutmeg and place in the preheated oven, temperature 400 F, for 45 to 50 mns (all the liquid should be absorbed, if your molds are small, check already after 35 or 40 mns).
- 600 g de pommes de terres, à chair ferme
- 400 g de céleri rave
- 3 gousses d’ail
- 20 cl de lait entier
- 20 cl de crème fleurette
- 3 brins de thym
- Noix de muscade
- 1 càs de persil, haché finement
- Mettez le lait et la crème dans une casserole et amenez à ébullition. Ajoutez deux gousses d’ail pelées et écrasées, et les brins de thym. Arrêtez le feu et couvrez. Laissez infuser 30 mns avant de filtrer.
- Pendant ce temps, pelez les pommes de terre et le céleri et coupez-les en tranches très fines (utilisez une mandoline si vous en avez une).
- Mettez les légumes dans deux assiettes, et assaisonnez de sel et de poivre.
- Prenez un grand plat à gratin ou des petits plats individuels. Frottez-les avec une gousse d’ail et beurrez-les largement.
- Arrangez les tranches de pomme de terre et de céleri en alternance. Ajoutez le persil haché au mélange lait/crème, et versez-le sur les légumes. Ajoutez une pointe de noix de muscade et mettez au four préchauffé à 200 C pendant 45 à 50 mns (tout le liquide doit être absorbé, si vos moules sont petits, vérifiez la cuisson dès 35 à 40 mns).