Pan-baked, crusted goodness.

Pan-baked, crusted goodness.

I can’t stop gratinéeing things. I’m not sure when it started, or why, but covering food in grated cheese and breadcrumbs and baking until crisp has become a thing for me. I wouldn’t say it’s a serious problem. I can stop at any time. I’m pretty sure.

Over the summer, we came up with an interesting range of vegetables au gratin: thinly sliced tomatoes and zucchini; eggplant, tomato, and anchovy;  Italian sausage and wilted collard greens; creamy Swiss chard, all with gratin topping. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy vegetables without the gratin treatment almost daily. But there is something special and comforting about a crunchy-topped dish.

Last week, I revisited a favorite. It’s a concoction I found through experimentation when when I was craving mac and cheese, but didn’t want all the starch for a mid-week meal. I can’t say it is light — unlike most of the other recipes, it does have a cheese sauce. But it also contains a healthy dose of fiber and greens. Balance. Right?

One of several modest servings I ate in one sitting.

One of several modest servings I ate in one sitting.

The types of beans I apply to this dish depend on what’s in the house. Normally I use Great Northern, or some other white bean variety. Same goes for the greens, and the cheese for that matter. Nothing is sacred here. Once you have the béchamel down, the rest is easy to adapt to whatever you have on hand.

White Bean, Black-eyed Pea, and Chard Gratin

Olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems and leaves separated. Stems diced, leaves roughly chopped

1 leek, white and light green part only, quartered, chopped and cleaned (Optional. I had a leek I needed to use)

1 17-oz package frozen black-eye peas, thawed (You can skip the frozen black-eye peas and use two cans of white beans, butter beans, lima beans, etc. You can use cooked dry beans too.)

1 15-oz can white beans (See note above)

3 Tbs butter

3 Tbs all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cup milk, warmed

Grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

7-8 oz grated cheese, or more, depending on what you have and your taste (I used a young Gruyere)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In an small bowl, combine 1/2 of the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and mx with your hands to combine. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the 3 Tbs of flour and stir to blend making a roux. Lower the heat and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly pour in the warmed milk and whisk to smooth any bumps. This is your very basic béchamel. Continue to cook over low heat, whisking occasionally to prevent scorching, about 10 to 15 minutes. The mixture will thicken.

Stir the remaining grated cheese into the béchamel. Whisk well until the cheese is melted and well incorporated. Season with a dash or two of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

While the béchamel is thickening, coat the bottom of a large, oven-safe skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. (Use a skillet with high sides, or a dutch oven.) Add the onions, leeks, and chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the chard leaves, sprinkle them with a bit of salt, and cook until they are wilted. When the greens are wilted, add in the beans and/or peas and heat to warm.

Pour the cheese sauce over the greens and beans and stir to evenly distribute. Level the surface and sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese over the top. Bake uncovered until bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Tradition: NYE Celebration

January 1, 2014

Every year since 1999, J and I have rung in the New Year with our annual tradition of caviar, homemade buckwheat blini and bubbles. (This year, we celebrated with a special bottle of bubbles, a gift from Robb and Dana. Wow!) We remember our families and friends, and toast our good fortune. We are truly grateful.

Happy New Year!