Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Healthier Gratin

When I was in college and some friends and I used to do The New York Times crossword every day, I used to say that I'd only marry someone who would do the Sunday puzzle in pen. As NYT crossword aficionados know, the Sunday puzzle isn't terribly difficult--it's about a Wednesday on a difficulty scale that stretches from Monday to Saturday--it's just bigger. The part about having to use a pen is more about attitude than actual smarts (or, rather, esoteric crossword knowledge), the willingness to commit to a guess even if you have to scratch it out later. When the Science Teacher and I started dating, one of the first regular activities we did together was the Sunday puzzle. And, yes, he does it in pen. That, along with a few other characteristics, pretty much sealed the deal for me.

While we don't buy the newspaper any other day of the week, we always buy the Sunday Times. We're horribly stereotypical in our reading: he grabs the Sports; I go for Sunday Styles. But we often read the Magazine together. Sunday supper always starts with a discussion of "The Ethicist", where people write in with their ethical dilemmas for Randy Cohen's snarky, though apt answers, and ends with the Sunday crossword.

Somewhere in between we'll read "The Way We Eat," which the Science Teacher especially loves. You see, he's a meat chef; he excels at the empty-out-the-frig dinners and is always my go-to person when I can't figure out whether I should be adding cumin or thyme. "The Way We Eat" is a column for meat chefs, all about dreaming up dishes, most of which most people who value their hearts wouldn't actually make, like caramelized bacon (ingredients: 1 lb bacon, 1 lb brown sugar). I'm always a little scared that he's actually going to want to make one of those recipes involving two cups of cream and a stick of butter.

I'm a control freak when it comes to food. Sure, you might say, but you're gluten intolerant, it comes with the territory. I can't blame it on the gluten. I'm a butter-cream-and-oil control freak. I've always been this way; food is where I hold my tension. I am getting better though. When the Science Teacher made millet instead of quinoa the other night (they do look alike dry) and added some olive oil and cheese--because, let's face it, dry millet isn't terribly tasty--I almost had to make some quinoa right then without any extras. But at the last moment I took a big breath; said to myself, this is not about quinoa or millet, this is about control; and let it go. The Science Teacher almost fell out of his chair.

In any case, when "The Way We Eat" had a column recently on gratins and the Science Teacher looked at it hopefully, I was a little scared. One recipe called for a cup of cream and a 1/2 lb of brie; the other called for 6 eggs and 2 cups of cream. He assured me that we could make it more healthily with cottage cheese and fewer eggs. I reluctantly agreed.

Looking at the recipes, I realized that a gratin wasn't a last-minute meal. It was going to take over an hour to cook plus the prep time. Even though I knew the Science Teacher wanted to experiment himself, I decided to give it a whirl earlier in the day. I combined both recipes from the column, using potatoes and chard and made a low-fat cheesy bechamel to pour over top of the vegetables. When I picked the Science Teacher up at the gym later in the day, I apologized for poaching his meal with a guilty grin, saying how long it took to cook. He looked at me, smiled wryly, and said, "Is this about time or control?" It's nice that your partner knows you well, I suppose. "Both," I said. He sighed. "That's ok. I'll try it myself some other time. It's probably good that you attempted it first yourself." Home we went to eat. He loved it (and so did I)!

A Healthier Potato-Chard Gratin

This recipe might be nice if half of the potatoes were replaced with another veggie, such as zucchini.

2 large potatoes
1 bunch swiss chard
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp flour
12 oz can fat free evaporated milk
12 oz low-fat milk
3 oz reduced-fat cheddar, grated
3 oz good quality cheddar or smoked cheddar, grated
1 tsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp cornmeal or breadcrumbs
3 tbsp parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

Slice the potatoes 1/8 in. thick. Grease a 7 x 12 casserole dish, and layer half of the potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Remove the stems from the swiss chard and chop the stems and leaves. Saute the stems in a little bit of olive oil for about 2 min. Add the leaves and wilt slightly. Remove from the heat. Spread chard on top of the potatoes.

Saute the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil until soft. Spread on top of the chard. Layer the rest of the potatoes on top of the onions.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in the sauce pan. Add the flour and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly. Add the evaporated milk and regular milk. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and add the cheese. Stir until melted. Add the salt, pepper, and rosemary.

Pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cornmeal and parmesan over everything. Pop it all in the oven and bake, covered in foil and bake for 30 min. Remove foil and bake for another 30-45 min, until the potatoes are tender and the top has a lovely golden crust.

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