Nothing lost in translation: Sunchoke and Potato Gratin.February 26, 2007
You say po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to. You say sun-CHOKE… um, I say sun-CHOKE.
My husband says grah-TAHN. I say GRAW-tin.
It doesn’t quite make for a catchy song, but it does make for a damn fine dinner. However you pronounce it, sunchoke and potato gratin is delicious.
I love a good gratin. Who doesn’t? Layers of silky, creamy potatoes in a rich buttery sauce… maybe some onions, garlic, and herbs nestled into the mix… and topped with a layer of delicious cheese, of course. Paired with a meaty, savory entree or just forked in as a solo act, gratin is oh-so satisfying.
Needless to say, then, I got pretty excited when my husband got out his fancy new gratin pan (or as he says it “grah-TAHN” pan, having taken French in high school). But, being the adventerous gourmand that he is, he had more than potatoes in mind for his gratin. He pulled out from his grocery bag sunchokes, a humble and misshapen little brown root vegetable — which I had been under the mistaken idea would look something like an artichoke. (Possibly because they both have the word “choke” in their name. Or possibly because I’d heard them referenced on some TV shows, and thought they’d have a more glam appearance.)
Anyway, here’s where the tension builds, folks. Would the addition of these foreign little vegetables throw off the gratin magic?
I’m happy to report that sunchokes make an excellent addition to your familiar old gratin. The hint of sweetness that they add melds beautifully with the herby, creamy sauce of the gratin. And their potato-like texture makes it hard to distinguish which starch you’re sinking your teeth into. It was a gratin not quite like one I’d ever had before (and I’ve had a few), and it was good. Damn good. Enjoy, folks!
Ah, so the secret is out: I speak very bad French. My wife calls it high school level. Actually, it’s even worse. I also took it throughout grade school and for a year in college. The only result of this immense amount of study is that I can roll my ‘R’ properly in the back of my throat, can read a touch of the language, and have the overwhelming desire to eat cheese often. Alas, my French is so unremarkable that my wife forgets I even know it. When there is a chance to use it, she decides to blaze right over any attempt I might make, unleashing instead her Francospanglish — stealing my moments of glory.
What is Francospanglish? That is tour-book French uttered by an Anglophone who speaks excellent Spanish. The results are usually pretty impressive. The most memorable incident occured when we were heading somewhere in Paris, and she asked for something that sounded like “Do biyettes?” The guy looked at her like she was slightly insane and asked in perfect British-accented English, “You want two tickets?”
But alas, I digress. This is a nice variation on what is nothing short of a classic staple in many kitchens. The only real distinction is the use of sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes). These ugly little root bulbs are sweet and tart. They are reminiscent of jicama in their slightly apple flavor, but they’re denser and have a bit more tang and rounder flavor. Also like jicama, they are a New World food, native to the Northeastern areas of the United States. More trivia: Sunchokes are tubers, and are part of plants that are related to the sunflower.
When cooked in this dish, sunchokes offered a depth and a change in flavor that wakes the gratin up. I’ll be experimenting more with them in the future — and trying to avoid using my French any more than humanly possible.
Sunchoke and Potato Gratin
Yields: 6-8 servings
1 1/2 lbs yukon gold potatoes (sliced)
3/4 lbs sunchokes (sliced)
1/2 large onion (sliced)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese (grated)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated)
1/4 cup manchego cheese (grated)
2 tsp. fresh thyme (finely chopped)
1 tsp. fresh rosemary (finely chopped)
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Thinly slice the potatoes and sunchokes. This is most easily done with a mandoline set between 1/4’’ and 1/8’’ thickness. If distracted by other projects, you might want to prepare a bowl of water with about a tablespoon of lemon/lime juice. If you place the slices in this acidic liquid it will prevent them from browning due to exposure to the air.
NOTE: You do not need to peel either the sunchokes or the potatoes. Both can be sliced with their skins on. However, be sure to wash the exteriors of both as they likely have some residual grit from their previous lives underground and in transit.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, add the cream, thyme and rosemary. Mix together and let sit covered until ready.
4. It’s time to construct the dish. In a greased gratin or 9-by-9 pan, begin with a layer of potatoes and sunchokes. Follow with a layer of onions and a light layer of cheese. Be a bit conservative with your gruyere. You want about a 1/2 cup of gruyere for the top. Lightly salt and pepper the layers. Repeat with another layer. After the second layer, pour about a quarter of the herb cream mixture over your layers. Continue until you’ve exhausted your ingredients and then use the remaining gruyere to top the dish.
5. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven. Cook for 30 min and then uncover and cook for another 30 min or until the potatoes are tender and the top has browned. Test by using a fork in the middle; it should press into the heart of the dish easily.
6. Allow the finished dish to rest for 10 min or until the cheese has set a bit. Cut into desired shape and then serve. Enjoy!