I had a wow moment at the dinner table after my first bite of this lovely root vegetable gratin. Normally, I serve really simple side dishes (think steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, plain buttered rice). But, last night, I was making a plain roast chicken and wanted something a bit more elaborate to go alongside it and the plain steamed green beans I was going to pair with the main meal.
I came across this recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Christmas cookbook. If you haven’t perused it before, I cannot urge you enough to go borrow a copy from your local library (or even look up the recipes online on her website). This book is fabulous, not only because it gives you the most fantastic Christmas day feast, along with a time table of when to cook what to get the meal on the table by a certain time, but the photography is spectacular, the writing fabulous, and the recipes are divine. There is so much this book has to offer, well beyond the callings of seasonal need. Think chili, brownies, bourbon sauced ribs, easy muffin and dessert recipes, and a whole host of divinely tempting cocktail recipes. I cook from this book year round, and these past few weeks, I’ve made at least four recipes from the book.
Nigella’s description caught my attention – a musky woodsy scented gratin, both comforting and exquisite. Hmmm, a must try, right? I’m here to tell you that this is more than a must try. This is a must do. If you love gratin dishes, you will love this. This is all the coziness of a scalloped potato dish, but it seduces the senses a bit with the addition of star anise and reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms. It takes a lot to wow me, but this one did, and my husband fell prey to its seduction as well. This dish made us both go back for seconds, something we rarely do except at Thanksgiving supper or Christmas feast time.
I found dried porcini mushrooms at my local Italian bakery, and they are fairly expensive, however, very little is needed to give tons of flavour to the dish, so a bag should last you quite some time. Another bonus is that because they’re dried, they will last a long time in your pantry. Perfect for a repeat appearance, and I can quite guarantee you that this will become a regular side dish in our home now. If you’re unsure about the star anise, let me urge you to try it. Star anise has a bit of a liquorice-like scent to it, but as Nigella states, it just helps add a musky depth of flavour as opposed to liquorice flavour. Don’t tell anyone you’ve added it, and I’ll bet no one will be able to guess the spice profile of this dish. Star anise can be found in Indian and Chinese grocery shops, and many supermarkets, and is cheap as chips.
Try this soon. You won’t be disappointed. The photo above is a snapshot taken from Nigella’s book, Nigella Christmas and the recipe is hers as well. I give you the original amounts, which will feed 6 to 8 people. I halved the recipe very successfully for just the three of us, and have some leftovers (thankfully) for another round later this week.
This recipe is Nigella Lawson's from her fabulous book, Nigella Christmas. I successfully halved the recipe and baked it in a smaller dish, and reduced the baking time by 15 minutes.
I found dried porcini mushrooms at my local Italian bakery, and got the star anise at my supermarket. Don't hesitate to add these ingredients to the gratin - they bring a real depth of flavour that Nigella describes as "comforting, yet grand and exquisite". How very true.
- 1/3 cup dried porcini (or ceps)
- 2/3 cup boiling water (from a kettle)
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1 tablespoon garlic flavored oil
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 star anise
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (or ½ teaspoon table salt)
- good grinding pepper
- 2 lb potatoes
- 2 lb parsnips
- Soak the porcini in the boiling water for about 20–30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7/450ºF. Heat the butter and garlic oil in a large pan.
- Drain the porcini, reserving the liquid, then finely chop the mushrooms and add them to the pan to cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the mushroom-liquid, milk, cream, star anise and salt and pepper.
- Without peeling the potatoes or parsnips, slice them into 1cm round slices and add to the pan.
- Bring the pan to a bubbling simmer and then gently cook, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potato and parsnip are tender but not mushy.
- Decant into a gratin-type, ovenproof dish (mine is a round shallow casserole, about 5-quart capacity).
- Cook in the oven for about 40 minutes (it will need longer if you have cooked it ahead and left it to cool before putting in the oven) or until the top is coloured in places and the gratin looks bubbly underneath.