Now that the great deluge of 2009 has subsided somewhat, I'm beginning to get a little variety in my CSA box. Gone are the leafy greens, here now are the sturdier veggies...zucchini, eggplant, cabbage and...green tomatoes. Argh. I can figure something out for most of the produce that comes my way, but green tomatoes are tough.
Of course there is the ubiquitous fried green tomato, but as much as I love to eat deep fried things, I enjoy the actual frying considerably less. The last time I deep fried something was two years ago. It was a breaded parmesan thyme pork chop and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. But my apartment smelled like a fryer for a month afterwards, and it took me quite some time to degrease my kitchen. I'm not in a rush to repeat the experience.
So instead I settled on a gratin.
I was wary of making a dish that was 100% green tomato, so I tempered it by layering in some potatoes.
Normally I would make a gratin in the method of very great Madeleine Kamman -- perfume the inside of a baking dish with a few rubs of a garlic clove, butter the dish, stack potato slices in the dish and douse with heavy cream. Finish off with some knobs of butter on the top and some salt and pepper and bake until tender. But I was worried that the tomatoes would give off too much moisture, and there is absolutely nothing worse than craving gratin and ending up with some sort of soup facsimile.
So bechamel sauce was in order since I figured the flour in it would soak up whatever errant tomato water was released. So with great gratin anticipation I whipped up a batch and got to work layering green tomatoes, potatoes, sauce, parmesan, repeat, repeat, when my phone rang. Paul had gotten a plus one for Arctic Monkeys at the last minute so I finished my layering, threw the whole mess in the fridge and headed out for a night on the west side of Manhattan.
Which made for a perfectly easy dinner the next night! Which was a good thing, since after the previous evening's entertainment I wasn't in the mood for anything that required thought of any sort. I came home, threw the gratin in the oven and I was devouring it in no time. And no degreasing was required.
Green Tomato and Potato Gratin
Serves 6, or 4 generously
2 cups whole milk
2 slices of onion
2 garlic cloves, smashed
aromatics (I used 2 bay leaves, 2 sage leaves and 4 sprigs of thyme, but throw in whatever you like/have)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
4 medium green tomatoes, sliced
3-4 medium sized yukon gold potatoes, sliced
2-3 slices country white bread, coarsely torn
1 cup stock or milk (I used veal stock)
3-4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add milk, onion, garlic and aromatics to a small pot. Bring slowly to just boiling. Turn off heat and set aside to steep. In a medium pot, melt butter. Once melted, add flour and stir to combine, cooking until raw flour taste has gone, approximately 2 minutes. Whisk in warm milk and aromatics until all lumps are gone. Cook until mixtures thickens (this shouldn't take long at all), and then cover, turn heat to very low, and cook for 10 minutes.
Place bread pieces in milk or stock to soak, and fish out onions, garlic and aromatics from bechamel. Then, in a baking dish cover the bottom with a layer of potatoes. Spread about a sixth of the sauce over the potatoes, shower parmesan over the sauce and move on to a layer of tomatoes, stacking in the same manner, alternating potatoes and tomatoes. End with a layer of bechamel. Squeeze soaking liquid out of bread and scatter the pieces over the bechamel, then end with a blanketing of parmesan cheese.
Bake until potatoes are fork tender. Oddly, I find that the baking times can vary wildly with gratins...anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Perhaps your oven is less schizophrenic than mine though? Just be sure not to undercook, there are few things more disappointing than a crunchy potato.