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There is something about seafood, shellfish in particular, that seems so decadent. Even the most simply prepared pot of mussels can elevate a meal, and a platter of raw oysters with a squeeze of lemon is a delicacy I imagine few would turn down at a cocktail party. Never mind that it was not long ago that oysters were reserved for the proletariat, and lobsters were eschewed as undesirable bottom-feeders. At the banquet of life in the twenty-first century, seafood is king.

Whenever in doubt what to feed company, I turn to the vast oceans.  Grilled jumbo shrimp cocktail. Mussels cooked in a saffron broth, or in wine and cream. Lobster pot pie. The choices are endless, and require very little time or fuss, since seafood is best highlighted with only a couple of extra flavors in order to let its specialness shine through. What could be easier than a throwing a few scallops into a pan with a knob of butter, or tossing some clams and spaghetti together with garlic and olive oil?

When I came across this recipe for Bay Scallop Gratin by Ina Garten, it instantly became one of my best-loved and oft-cooked recipes. It combines several of my favorite ingredients: scallops, butter, shallots, and panko bread crumbs. And of course, it’s gratineed. I think I would eat my shoe if it were gratineed.

Serve these scallops in individual gratin dishes alongside a salad and a loaf of crusty French bread and you have an elegant meal that will impress even your most important dinner guests. Follow it with creme brulee for dessert and you’ll knock it out of the park. Not bad for half an hour in the kitchen.

Ina Garten’s Bay Scallop Gratin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 large garlic cloves, minced

2 medium shallots, minced

2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, minced

4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons Pernod

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

6 tablespoons good olive oil

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

6 tablespoons dry white wine

2 pounds fresh bay scallops

lemon, for garnish

Directions:

1) Preheat the oven to 425F. Place 6 (6-inch round) gratin dishes on a sheet pan.

2) To make the topping, mix the butter in a bowl with an electric mixer on low speed. Add the garlic, shallot, prosciutto, parsley, lemon juice, Pernod, salt and pepper until well combined

3) With the mixer still on low, add the olive oil slowly as though making mayonnaise. Fold in panko with a rubber spatula.

4) Place 1 tablespoon of the wine in the bottom of each gratin dish. Pat scallops dry with paper towels and distribute evenly among the dishes. Spoon the garlic butter evenly over the scallops.

5) Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the topping is browned and sizzling and the scallops are barely done. Turn on the broiler and bake for 2 more minutes for a crusty, golden finish.

6) Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

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gratinPerhaps you’ve been wondering when I was going to post a recipe for a gratin.  My blog is still in its early days, but since I called it Gratinee, I figured it was time. 

What does gratinee mean?  Its just another word for au gratin, and was the more popular term at the turn of the last century.  Both of these words refer to any dish that is topped with cheese or a coating of bread crumbs, then browned in the oven to form a crisp golden crust.  Such dishes are usually a combination of potatoes, vegetables, seafood, or meats, bound with a sauce like bechamel.  Potato gratins are my favourite because the starch from the potatoes combined with some milk or cream creates a nice little sauce on its own.  Gratins are so easy to make and are the ultimate in comfort food.  They can be sinfully rich or relatively healthy–with the use of low-fat milk instead of butter and cream. 

Gratins are a little retro, I know.  But tell me, who can resist a mac n’ cheese with a breadcrumb topping, hot and bubbling from the oven?  Or scalloped potatoes, sliced paper thin and layered with dots of butter and Gruyere?  I can’t.

The possibilities of gratins are endless, and I offer you this simple recipe for one of my favourite weeknight suppers.

slicegrat

Potato & Eggplant Gratinee

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

for the eggplant:

1 eggplant

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

 

For the gratin:

1 pound potatoes (about 4 or 5)

2 1/2 cups half & half, or milk

3/4 cup Gruyere cheese

1/8 teaspoon herbs de provence

2 minced garlic cloves

1/2 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs* or panko

1 teaspoon olive oil

 

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 400F.  Slice the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Let drain on a rack or in a colander for half an hour to release the bitterness.  Dry off with paper towel and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. 

2) Bake eggplant for about 25 minutes, or until well-browned.  Turn over and bake for another 10 minutes.  In the meantime, peel the potatoes and slice very thinly–preferably on a mandoline.

3) Layer the potato slices, eggplant, and cheese in an ovenproof  gratin or casserole dish, sprinkling each layer with the herbs, salt and pepper, and dotting with bits of the butter and garlic. Be sure to finish the top layer with cheese.

4) Heat the cream or milk and pour it over the potatoes.  Make sure it comes about three-quarters of the way up the side of the dish, not more.  You may need a little more or less liquid, depending on the size of your potatoes and how thinly you slice them.

5) Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the potatoes.  Drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the top is brown and the potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes.

* Homemade breadcrumbs are much better than the store-bought kind.  I start with leftover bread from the bakery; its good if the bread is a little stale. I tear the bread into pieces and pulse in a food processor until it’s coursely chopped.  As an alternative, you might want to use Panko, the Japanese style of breadcrumbs that are popular these days.  They’re easily available and work really well in gratin dishes.

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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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