A side dish displays center-stage pizazz


Carrots and leeks in a silky gratin will win applause


January 05, 2003|By Betty Rosbottom | By Betty Rosbottom,Special to the Sun

Whenever I plan the menu for a winter dinner party, I always feel challenged to find interesting vegetables to serve with the main course. In the cold-weather months, side-dish possibilities are limited. Choices include root vegetables, fennel, Brussels sprouts and potatoes, which I typically roast or saute and sprinkle with herbs. However, a good friend recently mentioned that she had created a delicious carrot and leek gratin which, when served, had received rave reviews from guests.

This baked vegetable dish has several unusual features. Sauteed shaved carrots and chopped leeks are combined with a traditional mixture of cream and eggs, but a surprising accent of horseradish adds extra flavor. A topping of toasted fresh bread crumbs and shredded cheddar cheese sprinkled over the dish during the last minutes of baking forms a crisp golden crust that complements the silken-smooth custard.

I couldn't wait to try the gratin and found that it made a distinctive accompaniment to braised pork chops and to a roasted chicken. In fact, this dish is so versatile that it could be used with other meats. I've decided to use it as a garnish for a standing beef rib roast next time, and think that it would be lovely with a leg of lamb.

The gratin can be baked ahead and reheated when needed, and it can be assembled fairly quickly, especially if you use peeled and shaved carrots (available in many supermarkets) to cut down on the prep time. And your vegetarian friends will definitely feel rescued from side-dish boredom.

Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.

Winter Carrot and Leek Gratin

Makes 6 servings

4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing baking dish

2 slices good white bread

4 cups finely chopped or shredded carrots (about 1 1/2 pounds, see Note)

2 cups chopped leeks, white and light-green parts only

4 to 5 tablespoons undrained horseradish (use smaller amount for mild taste, larger for slightly stronger flavor)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups whipping cream

2 large eggs

1/2 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

Arrange rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 1 (2-quart) shallow, oven-to-table baking dish and set aside.

Place bread slices in food processor and pulse until fine bread crumbs are formed. Spread crumbs evenly on baking sheet. Bake until just golden, about 5 minutes, stirring once. Remove from oven and place in bowl. Retain oven temperature.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add carrots and leeks and saute, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in horseradish, salt and pepper. Spoon into prepared baking dish.

In medium bowl, whisk together cream and eggs until well blended. Pour over vegetable mixture and stir to combine with fork or spoon.

Combine bread crumbs and cheese and set aside.

Bake gratin 30 minutes. Spread crumb mixture on top of gratin and continue to bake 20 to 25 minutes longer until topping is golden and crisp. (Gratin can be prepared several hours ahead. Remove and leave, uncovered, at room temperature. Reheat in preheated 350-degree oven until hot, 15 minutes or longer.)

Note: To save time, look for packages of peeled, shredded carrots in the supermarket.

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