My girlfriend Christina grew up in Schoharie County, NY: home of Howe Caverns, tragic flood damage, and the Fabulous Beekman Boys. While she was home for the holidays, she picked me up the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook for Christmas. It’s chock full of seasonal recipes, using homegrown and local ingredients, handed down through the generations and adapted by the Beekman Boys, all on a farm only a couple of hours from here. Be still my local-girl heart.
Coincidentally, I had recently read the Bucolic Plague, Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s tale of how he and his partner Brent came to live in the Beekman mansion, so I knew a bit of their story. And as Christina and I sat down on the couch to catch up over champagne (and then wine, and yet more wine… but that’s a tale for another day), I paged through the cookbook looking for something I could toss together for dinner. I was not disappointed: it’s a lovely book, with lots of full-page photographs, sidebars to make a note of your own recipe adjustments, even a ‘keepsake’ section for tucking in your family’s favorite recipes.
Several recipes caught my eye: corn chowder salad, orange gingerbread, pea pod risotto, and this: leek and potato gratin. Potatoes and leeks, milk and cream: we had it all in the house, so potato leek gratin it was! With help from Christina and Tai (both excellent commis), we made short work of the chopping, layered everything into the cast iron skillet, and settled in with more champers to await the glory.
And glory there was: the smell alone is enough to make the staunchest vegan consider a “just-this-once” exception. And the taste: it’s rich without being heavy, thoroughly potato-y without being bland, warm and comforting without being pedestrian; in short, quite wonderful. I made a few changes to the original, adding in cheese (it is a gratin, after all), lengthening the cooking time (I like a very crispy top), adjusting amounts of various ingredients, but I’m sure that success in this, like many deceptively simple recipes, is entirely dependent upon the quality of the ingredients you use. Newly dug potatoes, farm fresh cream, pastured-milk butter: they all make a difference. Use them and it’s hard to go wrong. (Especially if you have friends that buy you great cookbooks for Christmas. Thanks, Christina!)
- 2 lbs potatoes, scrubbed, peel on
- 4 or 5 large leeks, white & light green parts (about 1 and 1/4 lbs trimmed)
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup milk (I use goat’s milk)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, or other hard grating cheese
- salt & freshly ground black pepper
- chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Halve the leeks lengthwise and wash them well in a large bowl of cool water, making sure to remove all of the grit between layers of leek. Heat butter over medium flame in a large, oven-proof skillet (I use a 13-inch cast iron skillet) until foam subsides. While butter is melting, slice leeks crosswise and add to the hot skillet, tossing in butter to coat. Reduce heat to low, add garlic, and sauté leeks & garlic until softened, without browning, about 10 minutes.
- While leeks are cooking, slice potatoes. Combine milk & cream in a 2-cup measure. Grate cheese. Once leeks are done, scrape vegetables into a bowl, add a touch more butter to the skillet (to prevent the gratin from sticking) and layer half of the potatoes into the bottom of the pan. Pour half of the milk/cream mixture over the potatoes, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt, a few grinds of black pepper and half of the grated cheese. Spread the leeks evenly over the top. Layer the remaining potatoes over the leeks, pour over the remaining milk/cream and add another 1/4 tsp of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Sprinkle on the rest of the grated cheese and bake in the preheated oven until potatoes are tender, the top is lightly browned, and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 1 hour. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve hot.
Serves 8 – 10.
- I made several changes to the original, which I’m sure is equally delicious. The cookbook is packed full of recipes that I want to try: I recommend checking it out.
- I’ve made this twice, once with butter, once with bacon grease: in this instance, I prefer butter. The flavor works so well with the leeks and adds a buttery richness throughout the entire dish; bacon doesn’t quite cut it here.
- I think this could be great with sweet potatoes, although I would add some cayenne or rosemary to offset the sweetness.
- I wonder about a less rich, but more savory, dish using chicken stock instead of milk & cream; maybe some dried herbs to amp up the flavor. I’ll report back if I try it.
Refrigerated, for up to 5 days.