Saturday, December 27, 2008

In Search of Gruyere Wine Coolers

The Giant supermarket across the street from my apartment is convenient, I’ll give them that. But for some reason, whenever I ask the Quality Food People if they have an ingredient that I’m looking for, they point me to the peanut aisles. Guess that’s their default answer when they don’t know, and apparently, they frequently don’t.

So I considered myself blessed when I asked the good people of Giant for a casserole dish, and they not only spared me the peanut aisles, but actually directed me to a couple shelves with tinfoil cooking instruments. I was off to an auspicious start for my first casserole.

When I think casserole, I think of an unimaginative housewife from the 1950s. It’s just not the image I’m going for. A spicy stir-fry or risotto always sounds more interesting. But after starting my winter “community-supported agriculture” program, I have pounds of turnips and celeria clogging up my refrigerator. So until I hear about an exciting recipe for celeria stir-fry, I’ve got to explore some other options.

Enter Turnip and Bleu Cheese Gratin, a recipe I found on old reliable I thought his recipe had a provocative mix of spices: rosemary, thyme, garlic, bay leaf. I was particularly interested in the Gruyere cheese. Unfortunately, Giant didn’t have any; their employee was sure that Gruyere was a type of wine cooler. I ended up substituting feta (bad guess, by the way; the online food thesauruses say I should have gone with swiss).

Then I got down to business in my kitchen. One thing about this recipe: great mix of vegetables. My mouth watered as I stirred the chopped leeks, turnips, squash, mushrooms, and carrots as they crackled on the stove. The sauce looked nice, too, with the cream taking on a pleasant light green hue from the thyme. Just as I got done rubbing the tin foil with a pungent clove of garlic, the preheat light went off and the oven was ready. I was on quite a cassa-role.

Then things fell apart. My casserole dish was too big! The vegetables only filled up about half the dish, and if I spaced them to cover the dish, they spread out too thinly. When I tried to space them, the cheese top crumbled. Damn you Giant for only having 12 lbs casserole dishes! Why didn’t you just point me to the peanuts aisles and spare me all this pain!

I took some deep breaths and, through some artistry, reformed the cheese top. But I still had a real problem because when I poured in the sauce, it clung to the vegetables as long as it could, but then spilled out into the empty remaining half of the dish, pooling pathetically by itself.

MacGyver Chef came to the rescue. I inserted a smaller plate underneath the right side of the casserole dish to prop it up – thereby tilting the sauce towards the half of the dish with the casserole. I was expecting the plate to explode in the oven, but this actually worked. Is this an old housewife’s trick, I wonder? Or are the housewives just smart enough to actually have the right sized casserole dish.

Upon plating, I was excited. The bleu and feta cheese had browned nicely and as I forked my first bite, I enjoyed the sight of the flakes of thyme mingled with the bits of garlic. I could smell the faintly bitter scent of the leeks.

The vegetables complemented each other well. The sweet carrots and squash balanced the bitterness of the leeks and turnips. Even without the gruyere, the cheese mixture was excellent. I only regret not adding more rosemary than the recipe called for because whenever that bleu cheese and garlic touched my palette, the rosemary got muffled like a kid laughing in church.

Next time the CSA gives me some turnips, I’m making this recipe again, if for no other reason than to figure out how to better space my casserole dish. Til then, I’ll have to check out some of those tasty Gruyere wine coolers.

RECIPE (from

2 cloves garlic, smashed
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup half-and-half cream
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large leek - cleaned, and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
2 large turnips, peeled and sliced
1 cup cubed butternut squash
4 large mushrooms, sliced
2 large carrots, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
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1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Butter a 2 quart casserole dish, rub with one of the garlic cloves, and sprinkle with a little salt. Set aside.
2. Heat the half-and-half in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the thyme, bay leaf and both garlic cloves. Remove from the heat just before it boils.
3. Place the leek, turnip, squash, mushrooms and carrots into a large saucepan and fill with about 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, cover and steam over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Drain and layer vegetables into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle rosemary in between the layers. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle blue cheese and Gruyere cheese over the top. Strain the half-and-half and pour into the casserole.
4. Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven until vegetables are tender and sauce is thick, about 40 minutes. Uncover for the last 20 minutes to allow the top to brown.