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Grateful for au Gratin

November 20th, 2014 by Ron

“Baby, it’s cold outside…”

No, it’s not the official start of the December holidays yet, but it sure feels like it here in Chicagoland.  When it begins to be really frigid outside, I look to foods that are comforting. One of my favorite styles of food preparation is  “au gratin” style.

According to Escoffier, there are four types of gratins: the complete gratin, the quick gratin, the light gratin, and glazings which is a form of quick gratin. What each has in common is being  baked and browned on top.  An official “au gratin” dish is an oval baking dish.















Another term you will find associated with dishes like this is that they are “gratinéed.”   The most common dish is “Potatoes au Gratin.”

This style is innovative and adaptable. For au gratin, the main item is either completely raw or par cooked and is layered with the addition of a liquid, often cheese, and often a topping like bread crumbs.  The liquid can be stock, milk/cream, béchamel, veloute, even soy milk.  If you use a purely raw item, such as a raw potato, the cooking times increase. The top can have fresh or dry bread crumbs, cheese, or none, but it must be browned on top.  If a cheese is used, it can be shredded, sliced firm cheese or even a soft cheese like goat.

There are many opportunities for creativity. Here I use butternut squash that I bought on the last day of my local farmer’s market, which seems to be apropos with the type of weather so much of the United States is experiencing.













Caramelized Butternut Squash Gratin with Fennel, Leeks, Smoked Swiss and Aged Sharp Cheddar Cheese

2 small butternut squash, peeled, and seeds removed, cut into ¼ inch slices

1 fennel bulb, core removed and cut into flat pieces

4 inch piece of the white part of a large leek, larger parts cut in half

1 teaspoon of smoked paprika

Salt and fresh cracked black pepper

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¾ cup each of shredded smoked Swiss and Aged Cheddar

½ cup of chicken stock

¾ cup of heavy cream

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 ½ cups of fresh bread crumbs

3 tablespoons of melted butter

Liberally butter a 12” x 8” baking dish and set aside.

Preheat your broiler and set the rack just above the middle of your oven.  In a bowl, toss the fennel and leeks with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.  Place the fennel and leeks, separated, on a flat sheet tray and broil them until they start to take on a golden hue.  Note: the leeks will cook faster than the fennel so they will need to be removed.

In the same bowl that was used for the fennel and leeks, toss the squash with the remaining olive oil and place them on the same sheet tray after the fennel and leeks are caramelized and do the same to the squash.  Change the oven temperature to 400 degrees.















Begin to layer the vegetables, first squash then fennel and leeks finishing with ¾ cup of the shredded cheeses.  Repeat the layering and finish the second layer with the chopped thyme spread evenly.
















Mix together the chicken stock and cream then pour over the gratin.  Place the dish on a sheet tray and place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  In the same bowl used earlier, toss the fresh bread crumbs with melted butter.  After the gratin has cooked for 30 minutes, top with the bread crumbs and bake for approximately 20 minutes more or until the top of the gratin is golden brown and beautiful.  Remove from the oven and allow it to cool slightly before serving.  Bon Appetit!

Do you have a favorite type of gratin? Please share it with me. Until next month, happy Thanksgiving!


Escoffier, A. (1979). The complete guide to the art of modern cookery: The first translation into English in its entirety of Le guide culinaire (pp. 263-4). London: Heinemann.






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Ron Martin is a Chef-Instructor at The Chopping Block. His food background began in a small town in southeastern Indiana and quickly blossomed into a full on love of food and flavors. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and also has a degree in Elementary Education. He never misses an opportunity to expand his palate and learn new styles and foods. Ron's number one partner in his culinary adventures is his wife Sharon and sometimes their two teenagers. Besides working at TCB, he enjoys working on home improvement projects, making good beer, St. Louis Cardinals baseball, playing golf (poorly), and hanging out with his family, 2 dogs and 2 cats.

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