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Dec 10, 2013
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WINE WITH…Leek and Potato Gratinée

One way the French turn the humblest ingredients into pure gastronomic treasure is to layer them in a baking dish with oodles of good cheese, butter, maybe olive oil and perhaps a splash of cream, and then bake the whole thing in a hot oven until it is bubbly, well-browned, and completely irresistible. The name for this type of dish is gratinée, which comes from grater--to scrape or scratch--and that is exactly what you will want to do with the tasty, toasty brown bits clinging to the sides of the baking dish. (Gratin or gratinée, both words correctly describe this sort of preparation.) Artichokes, cauliflower, mushrooms, even Belgian endive, all lend themselves to the same basic treatment, but potato gratinée, a more thrilling adaptation of what we call scalloped potatoes, may be the most popular variation on the theme.

A gratinée is most often served as a side dish accompanying a roast or chops, but it also can be a very satisfying simple, meat-free main dish. After all, macaroni and cheese, which many of us view as one of the favorite centerpieces of an American family’s meal, is a close cousin.

Leek and Potato Gratinée

4-6 leeks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
6 or so waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold (about 3 pounds), peeled
2 cups grated Gruyère Cheese
½ cup half and half
½ cup grated Parmesan Cheese

To prepare the leeks, cut off the tough upper parts, leaving only a small amount of green. Cut them in half lengthwise, and then slice the halves crosswise into small (½-inch or so) pieces. Transfer the leeks to a large bowl filled with cold water and swish them around to dislodge dirt and sand. With your hands, lift the leeks out of the water and into a strainer. Pour the water and all accumulated grit out of the bowl, refill it, and repeat the process as many times as necessary until the water remains clean.

Heat 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil in a sturdy skillet. When the butter foams, add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the leeks are soft. May be made up to 24 hours ahead.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Using a food processor’s slicing blade, a mandolin, or a sharp knife, cut the potatoes into thin slices (do not rinse them). Place the remaining butter and olive oil in a skillet or baking dish and place in the oven until butter is melted. Arrange the potatoes in an overlapping circle to cover the bottom of the pan completely. Salt and pepper them lightly and top them with half the Gruyère. Add another layer of potatoes and cover it with the leeks. Add more potatoes, the remaining Gruyère, and finish with the remaining potatoes. Drizzle in the half and half and sprinkle with the Parmesan over the top. Bake for 45-60 minutes.

* * *

This is a simple and, despite the cheese, a fairly light dish, so it goes best with lighter wines, particularly whites. While you could raid your cellar and drink a fine white Burgundy with it, we think of gratinée as comfort food, more appropriate for a Tuesday night supper than a Saturday dinner party. We set a price limit of $25 on the twelve wines we tried, and found a good number that paired harmoniously with this satisfying dish.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Cono Sur, Valle Central (Chile), Pinot Noir 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$16

The one red wine we are recommending, this light, silky Pinot exhibits the variety’s tell-tale dark cherry-scented bouquet, followed by legitimately dry fruit flavors. If only more California producers would makes Pinot Noir that tastes this classy.

Neil Ellis, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Chardonnay 2012

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$21

A lithe Chardonnay, with a core of sweet autumn fruit flavor and a long, satisfying finish, this wine keeps all its elements in check, allowing the dish to have equal billing at the table.

Famille Perrin, Côtes du Rhône (France) Blanc Réserve 2012

(Imported by Vineyard Brands Imports)

$11

A real surprise, as many if not most comparably priced white Côtes du Rhônes taste dull and nondescript, this wine has a vivid core of fruit and more than a hint of stony minerality. It’s a steal at the price.

Piccini, Prosecco (Italy), NV

(Imported by Aveíu Brands)

$16

Sweet fruit dominates this Italian sparkler, which unlike many value-priced Proseccos, never turns sappy or cloying on the palate. The fizz makes it especially food friending, particularly given all the creamy cheese in this gratinée.

Finado, Alto Adige (Italy) 2012

(Imported by Banville & Jones)

$16

Deliciously complex for a wine costing less than $20, this Pinot Bianco offers layered flavors. The taste of fresh fruit dominates, but earthy, slightly herbal notes provide interest and even intrigue.