About two weeks ago, I was reading Steve Manfredi’s Seasonal Cook column in the weekend paper when a thought struck me. The featured ingredient was cavolo nero, that wonderful deeply green cabbage originally from Tuscany. One of Steve’s recipes was for his version of cavolo nero gratin. The gratin sounded very familiar, and even more familiar was the name of the chef he credited the recipe to, Cameron Cansdell. My weekend brain took awhile to finally click that they seemed so familiar because I used to work with Cameron at the bistro, and that a similar gratin had been on the bistro’s menu.
Memories of my time working at the bistro came flooding back, as did the taste of that amazing gratin which if I remember correctly, used to be served with panfried duck breast and confit duck leg. The gratins used to be made in elongated metal tins, and portions were scooped out as required. I could still remember how gloriously crunchy the golden crust was, and how naturally sweet and yielding the vegetables that lay underneath were. Ah, I just had to try the gratin again!
As it is difficult to find ingredients like cavolo nero near where I live, I used silverbeet instead. Silverbeet, also known as Swiss Chard or Perpetual Spinach, is a leafy vegetable that is part of the beet family and is popular in Mediterranean cooking. Regardless of whether you settle on using cavolo or silverbeet, the method for preparing this gratin remains the same, and trust me, the end result will make you glad that you gave this tasty recipe a go!
Silverbeet gratin is my contribution to this week’s WHB, hosted by Cate of Sweetnicks.
Cavolo Nero Gratin :
(serves 6; from Steve Manfredi’s Seasonal Cook column)
4 bunches cavolo nero, each about 150g
1 cup breadcrumbs, not too fine
100g melting cheese such as gruyere or fontina
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to boil. Strip leaves from cavolo nero, discarding stems. Simmer leaves in the boiling, salted water for 3 minutes. Drain well, pushing residual water from leaves with the back of a ladle.
Preheat oven to 200’C. In a bowl combine breadcrumbs and the two cheeses [You can also add some freshly chopped herbs to this breadcrumb mixture if you wish. I included some thyme in mine].
Place a pan over medium heat, add butter and oil and, when they begin to sizzle, add onion. Lightly fry for 3-4 minutes until transparent. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Coarsely chop cavolo and add to onions and garlic. Saute for 2 minutes, then add cream. Turn heat to high to evaporate liquid until there is just enough cream to coat the cavolo. Season to taste, then remove from pan and spoon mixture into a gratin dish or ovenproof fry pan where the mixture will fit snugly and is 3-4 cm deep. Spread breadcrumb mixture over top of gratin and bake in oven for 20 minutes until golden brown.
Serve hot by itself or as an accompaniment to roast beef or pork.