This gratin is a one pan (or pumpkin) meal that is so delicious and savory that it’s perfect for these crisp fall nights of late October.
I made up this recipe on a whim last Wednesday – it was the night before our next farm share delivery and my goal was to make a delicious dinner using up as many random ingredients as I could before the fridge was restocked. I ended up experimenting with a potato gratin that was packed with a layer of pork sausage and another layer greens and fresh herbs. The final result was a dish hearty enough to stand on its own as a one-pot meal. To my delight, everyone in the house loved it, and I couldn’t help but make it again last night, but with a pumpkin twist!
As I said, I wanted to use up odds and ends from the fridge. Whenever I put those constraints on myself, I often come up with something creative (usually delicious), and in the end, I often realize that this made-up dish is a great jumping off point for many more experiments (thus the pumpkin!). Since there’s so much flexibility in this dish, I’m going to write it down as a recipe, but with an emphasis and understanding that you have a lot of room to experiment.
For example, here are a list of the variations I used in the two times I’ve made it:
- greens : The first time I made this, I used a greens combination of chard, fresh spinach, and beet greens. I paired that with leeks and a lot of fresh dill and parsley. The second time, I used all kale paired with a leek and half an onion, fresh parsley and fresh sage. The second time I also added a layer of sliced and steamed yellow squash. Anything goes!
- sausage : On round one, we had a 1/2 lb of maple breakfast sausage and a 1/2 lb of Italian sausage in the fridge. The second time we had 1 lb of maple breakfast sausage (it paired beautifully with the pumpkin!).
- potatoes : The first time I peeled and sliced the potatoes, the second time I keep the skins on and diced them for stuffing in the pumpkin.
- the sauce : The second time I skipped the cheddar cheese in the Bechamel Sauce.
I know that the idea of making a Bechamel sauce can be daunting on your first go, but don’t back away from it. I first made one a few years ago for a sweet potato and kale gratin (also amazingly delicious), and it was then that I realized that it was so easy. Just remember to keep stirring and watch your heat – you don’t want it too hot or too cool, just somewhere in the middle and you’re good to go. This is a handy sauce to be able to make because in addition to gratins, you can use it as the base for homemade macaroni and cheese or as a basic cheese sauce to go over veggies.
- 1 lb sausage (I used 1/2 pound Italian sausage and a 1/2 pound maple breakfast sausage)
- 2 leeks (or a small onion)
- 1 or 2 bunches of greens (can be any combination of kale, chard, spinach, beet greens)
- small handful of fresh herbs (any combination of parsley, dill, sage, thyme)
- potatoes (enough sliced for two layers in your casserole pan)
- olive oil
- goat cheese
- 3 Tbs butter
- 3 Tbs flour
- 1 2/3 cups milk
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
- Crumble the sausage into a frying pan and cook over medium heat, removing it from the pan when cooked through, and set aside.
- While the sausage is cooking, peel and slice the potatoes (about 1/4 inch slices). Bring water to boil in a medium sauce pot, add the sliced potatoes, and boil for a few minutes until the potatoes are just soft. When done, drain and set aside.
- Wipe out the pan, add some olive oil to coat the pan, and saute the leeks or onion over medium-low heat until cooked through, soft, and clear in color. Add the rinsed and chopped greens, and continue to cook while covered, stirring occasionally, until the greens have wilted. Remove the lid to allow excess moisture to escape, add the fresh herbs, and give everything a stir. At this point you can turn off the burner, but allow the pan to sit on it, using the remaining heat to continue to evaporate water from the greens.
- Heat the milk until warm (I just pop it in the microwave for about 90 seconds), then set it aside.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.
- Stir in the flour and whisk constantly for about two minutes as the mixture bubbles. If it bubbles too intensely and starting to brown, turn the heat down. I find that a medium to medium-low setting is just right on my stove, but you may have to play around.
- Add the hot milk and continue stirring for about 3 minutes. The mixture should thicken and bubble slightly (it's almost hard to tell because you're mixing it constant).
- Take the mixture off the heat, add the cheddar cheese and a dash of salt, and stir until the cheese has melted.
- Place one layer of potatoes in the bottom of a 9x13 in pan. Add the layer of greens topped by the cooked sausage. Pour over approximately half of the Bechamel sauce. Add the second layer of potatoes, top with dollops of the goat cheese, and pour over the remaining sauce.
- Cover with foil and place in a 350F oven for about 30-40 minutes remove the foil and leave in the over for another 10 minutes or until there is some slight browning on top of the gratin.
- Remove from the oven, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes, then serve, enjoy, and come back for seconds.
If you’d like to experiment with the pumpkin variation, it’s easy peasy, yet looks impressive. Begin by slicing the top off a smallish pie pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy bits from inside. Then I placed the pumpkin on a baking sheet and popped it in a 350F oven to begin cooking while I prepped the remaining vegetables and sauce (about 15-20 minutes?).
When the remaining ingredients are ready, start layering them in the pumpkin : first the greens, onion, and herb mixture, then the sausage, then some of the sauce, then any additional veggies (this is where I added the yellow squash), then the diced potatoes, dollops of goat cheese, and then the remaining sauce. I had some remaining ingredients, so I layered them in individual-sized pots with some sauce and cheese.
These would make cute individual-sized servings for a dinner. I’m also thinking that a cracked egg on top of the pots and left to cook in the oven would turn this into an amazing breakfast casserole!
I popped the pumpkin back into the oven for another 30-40 minutes to let everything continue cooking and blending together. When I removed it from the oven, I let it sit for about 20 minutes (we were distracted), and it was still perfectly warm and ready to eat when we served it (great to know if you’re trying to time dishes for a holiday dinner). Rather than scoop out the servings, this looks beautiful on plates if you slice through the pumpkin and place pie-like slices on plates, allowing everyone to remove the rind on their own.
So there you have it, an amazingly simple and versatile gratin that is hearty enough to be its own meal. If you make one, let us know what variations you come up with!