I've yet to meet a gratin I didn't want to marry. Comfortable unpretentiousness, warm and welcoming, and so flexible. Some are stand-alone dishes, needing only a salad to round them out. Others show up as side dishes on a Thanksgiving table. Sometimes they're healthy, sometimes not-so-much. But they always accommodate almost any vegetable, whether it's a root vegetable in winter, squash in autumn, or tomatoes in summer.
First: What Actually Is A gratin??
I always thought gratin meant a casserole with a cheesy baked topping. It turns out, that's almost right, but not quite. Cooking something au gratin means to bake it with a crust made of shavings of cheese and/or breadcrumbs. The cheese isn't a critical component - the fact that the topping is scraped, shaved, or grated is what makes it a gratin. The concept stems from the French (who know a thing or two about food) and is always cooked in a shallow baking pan, often finished under the broiler for a crusty top.
Fun factoid, the term le gratin signifies the "upper crust" of Parisian society.
Ways to Use Gratins
- Gratins are perfect for leftover vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, spinach greens, and potatoes, or pasta. But don't think you can use vegetables that are too far past their prime.
- Gratins are ideal for vegetables and greens on the bitterness spectrum. I'm thinking Brussels sprouts, or winter greens like kale, Swiss chard, and mustard greens. Another excellent candidate for casseroles is broccoli rabe, as famous for its bitterness as for its nutritional profile.
- I often make gratins for casual dinner parties, and cook them ahead earlier in the day. All I need do is warm them up as guests arrive.
This Brussels sprouts gratin was modeled from this contest winner on Food52, created by a woman who uses the moniker hardlikearmour. I took some liberties with it, since that's what I do, and made it a few times before I landed on a flavor balance that worked for us. Hope you like it too!
Brussels Sprouts Gratin with Quinoa
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 ½ cups Panko style bread crumbs
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 350º F.
- Fry up the bacon, if using, in a large skillet and drain on a paper towel, reserving 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.
- Thinly slice the Brussels sprouts using the slicing disc of a food processor. You can also use a mandoline or slice them by hand, but it will take much longer, and the slices are unlikely to be as thin and evenly sliced as with the food processor. Dump into a large bowl and add the cranberries and cooked quinoa.
- Heat up 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease, or butter if not using bacon, and add the broth, whipping cream, mustard, celery salt, kosher salt and pepper. Whisk and heat just until starting to simmer. Add in half of the shredded Brussels sprouts and carefully turn to coat using tongs. Sauté for 5 minutes and return to the bowl with the remaining Brussels sprouts. Toss thoroughly and scrape the mixture to a shallow baking pan (I used a 9" X 11" pan). Spread in an even layer.
- Stir the melted butter and maple syrup together in a small bowl. Place the bread crumbs, pine nuts, and salt in a small bowl and toss with the melted butter and maple syrup until the crumbs are well-coated . Spread evenly over the Brussels sprouts.
- Bake the gratin until the topping is golden brown. This should take about 45 minutes at sea level and 1 hour at high altitude (6000-7000 feet). Rotate the pan half-way through to promote an even browning.
- Serve warm.
Looking for more recipes with Brussels sprouts? Here are some of my favorites!