A.k.a. The Gratin That Swallowed Monday Night. This was a new recipe for me, from Martha Rose Schulman’s Ready When You Are. All the recipes in this book sound hearty, comforting, and delectable, but also slightly beyond my threshold for labor-intensiveness. (Intensivity?) And that’s exactly how I’d describe this meal. A and I both pronounced it very tasty. But do you know when I finally got to eat it? 10:15 p.m., my friend. I felt as though I spent all evening in the kitchen (except when I did yoga while the gratin was in the oven, but I was so shaky with hunger I nearly toppled over onto the coffee table). I haven’t yet determined whether the ends quite justified the means. It sure was good, with a lot of different tastes and textures melding together (the chicken stock I made last week imparted an especially nice flavor), but it seemed to take forever. It wasn’t even a particularly difficult process; there were just so many components to assemble. I probably could have been more efficient, in retrospect, which makes me want to tackle this at least one more time to get it right. I know I got overwhelmed and took a lot more time than necessary--there were so many ingredients piled on my counter that I thought I should do some of the prep work first and get stuff out of the way, so I spent a lot of time slicing and chopping and mixing things before I even started cooking the sausage (which was frozen, as I’d forgotten to defrost it, and letting it thaw a bit was probably my rationale in leaving the sausage for last, but hello? That’s what microwaves are for), and then had to wait around for the sausage to cook.
Adding to my frustrations was the fact that the recipe claimed it made 6-8 servings. This seemed like way too much food to keep in the fridge all week, so while making it I decided to skimp on some of the ingredients. Not a methodical reduction, but just a tiny bit less of all the core ingredients—onion, sausage, tomato, pepper, potato. I didn’t reduce anything by much, yet what I got, in the end, after my three hours of labor, was barely enough for 4 main-dish servings. Which irritates me, because (a) the recipe was apparently lying; (b) I’m an idiot for doing all that work for a less-than-maximum result; (c) the gratin was good and I wish there was more of it to eat; and (d) now I have an extra tomato, bell pepper, and potato lying uselessly around my kitchen. D’oh!
So, to sum up: This recipe made me cranky and stressed-out, but admittedly much of that is my own fault. It does make really good food. It’s probably just better suited to a weekend meal than a work night. "Ready when you are," my foot!
Postscript, December 2009: Ultimately, this was too labor-intensive to be a keeper; I've phased it out of my repertoire.
5 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a bit extra
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, or sage
salt and pepper
½ pound mild Italian sausage
2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 pound red bell peppers, quartered, seeded, and sliced crosswise in thin strips
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sugar
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut one garlic clove in half and rub the cut end all over the inside of a 3-quart baking dish. Mmm, garlic. Brush the inside of the dish lightly with olive oil.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the onions when it's hot. Cook, stirring, until onions are tender, 5-10 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of the herbs, and some salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then “crumble in” the sausage (mine was in links, so I cut off the casings, put the whole sausages in the pan, and then gradually broke them up into little bits with a spoon) and cook it, stirring, until it's no longer pink.
3. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes, and toss them in a medium-sized bowl with 1 tablespoon of the herbs and some salt and pepper.
4. Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and mix them in a large bowl with the red peppers, tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon herbs, dried oregano, and sugar. Season generously with salt and pepper.
5. Layer half the tomato mixture in the baking dish, then layer half the potatoes on top of them and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top the potatoes with all of the sausage and onion mixture (scoop it out of the pan with a slotted spoon to leave the grease behind), then add another layer of potatoes, again seasoning with salt and pepper. Top this with the remaining tomato mixture, then pour in the stock and drizzle on a little oil. “Insert” the 2 bay leaves into the gratin, one in each half of the dish (but don't bury them completely since you'll have to remove them later).
6. Finally, place the dish in the oven to bake for 1½ to 2 hours, until the potatoes are tender and the top is beginning to brown. Periodically, pull the gratin out of the oven, press down on the top layer with the back of a large spoon, scoop up some of the juices from underneath, and baste the top layer to keep the potatoes from drying out. When the gratin looks almost done, sprinkle the Gruyere over the top, then continue cooking until it's melted, bubbly, and beginning to brown. Take the dish out of the oven, remove and discard the bay leaves, and let the gratin sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Serves: Recipe says 6-8; I say 4-6
Time: 1 hour (maybe less, if you’re efficient) to prep, 2 hours to bake