I'm twiddling my thumbs impatiently while dinner soul-achingly, mind-numbingly, head-splittingly, heart-wrenchingly slowly cooks. You think that sounds dramatic? You should see me and my classmates every day round about 1:30PM draped over our worktables, inadvertently covering ourselves in flour, as we wait for our bread to bake so we can eat lunch already. We're so pathetic.
Today, as the pastry class tasted the napoleans, fruit tarts, paris brests, two cakes and eclairs they had made, every woman in my class slowly wandered, one at a time, into the pastry kitchen. We hovered shoulder-to-shoulder, just a foot behind the instructor awaiting the offer to dive in. We were finally presented with a plate laden with generous samples which we all dove upon in one fell swoop, discarding our spoons and opting to use our fingers instead. It's a good thing the treats kept coming because it could have gotten ugly if someone grabbed the last nibble of the dacquoise. We were out for blood. For some reason the pastry class doesn't hover lustily over our breads, but I suppose they wouldn't. Try as we might to shrug off our sweet teeth, they appear to be innate, inborn, in my blood, get in our bellies sweet stuff. It's true, girls love pretty sweet things. Love love love them.
How is that we're going to this fantastic baking school where we are greeted each morning by, not one, but two, count 'em two, types of pastry freshly baked for us, and we are then given, approximately two hours later, a similar magical array of fresh-baked goodness, and then at lunch we are treated to a wonderful made from scratch feast, with vegetarian option, always accompanied by a salad and fresh bread, not to mention pastry for dessert and I am STILL hungry? Oh - and did I mention that on Fridays we get wine with lunch? No, I have not died and gone to heaven, merely reporting back for your enjoyment. This is where I go to school. It is the cushiest, coziest, friendliest bread baking institution imaginable. It's also quite rigorous, which perhaps is why we're coddled and cajoled with treats. But nonetheless, how is it that I am now eating upwards of five times a day and my classmates and I have still have the gall to become blinded by hunger?
I'm sure it's something to do with upping our caloric intake and our bodies are now screaming for us to maintain it. All I know is somehow, someway my being surrounded by food has only exponentially increased my love for the stuff. Everyday after class I hop on the train, open up my food-related tome du jour (today, The Tenth Muse) and ruminate on dinner options between chapters.
My pantry has quadrupled in size since that first trip I made to Trader Joe's. I now have beans, pasta, rice, dried apricots, arugula, peppers, tomato paste, corn tortillas, celery root, potatoes, three kinds of cheese, tuna, cilantro, onions of all shapes and sizes, rice and already *gasp* leftovers.
As of Wednesday I already knew not only what I was cooking for dinner on Friday, but also how I was going to execute it. It's pathetic really. But that's what happens when one very homesick girl wanders into one fantastically gorgeous farmer's market and is swept off her feet by a bin that runneth over with gargantuan celery root. What else is a girl to do but dream up the ways in which she will consume this beast of a veggie?
I'll admit, a gratin is not a revelatory dream. But it's certainly not something to shrug off. It sounds quite heavy, but in reality the vegetables are merely glazed in the cream and small amounts of cheese. I recommend organic vegetables for this, and that stilton absolutely must have the apricot in it for just the slightest hint of sweet.
It's a lovely meal on a chilly, rainy night when all you need is a delicate hint of warmth to accompany a glass of wine and a little salad. In fact, I may just have that myself right now.
Celery Root, Potato and Stilton Gratin
Adapted from Chow
For the topping
1 cup crumbled dried baguette
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp salt
For the gratin
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup crumbled stilton with dried apricots
2 1/2 lbs fingerling potatoes, any color, sliced into 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 lbs celery root, peeled and sliced into 1/4 thick slices
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
Combine all ingredients for the topping in a medium bowl and mix until butter is incorporated. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 400°F. Set out a medium sized gratin dish.
Pour cream into a large bowl. Add sliced potatoes and celery root and grated parmesan cheese. Toss until well coated.
Melt butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When it foams, add onion and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Construct gratin by ladling 1/2 of the potato and celery root mixture (but not the excess cream) into the baking dish, then seasoning well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle on half of the stilton. Top with the onions, then another layer of squash and celery root. Season the second layer with salt and pepper and cover with the remaining onions. Place the last of the squash and celery root on top and press down to create an even surface. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with remaining stilton.
Sprinkle topping evenly over gratin. Cover gratin dish and bake until vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10 mins, until top is crispy.