Market Share — cheese makes everything better

Kicking around home on a Sunday afternoon? Try this vegetarian dish (with meat option) to warm you up.

Squash and leeks are in season now (and cheese is always in season)
Photos by Stacey DeWolfe

This week’s post is not so much about the great culinary unknown as it is about the simplicity of taking something delicious, roasting it (to increase said deliciousness) and then covering the whole damn thing in cheese. But not just any cheese: Gruyère.

When you buy Gruyère at the grocery store, what you get is often just a facsimile of the original: a waxy, flavourless white slab that has only the faintest aroma of stinky cheesiness. So, if you’re looking for real Gruyère, might I suggest a trip to a speciality cheese shop where you can count on the quality and can sample the various offerings so that you arrive home with a cheese that meets your specific taste requirements.

Gruyère is not a cheese that appears often at my table. We keep aged cheddar and parmesan at the ready, and stock up on sentimental favourites like blue-veined Ermite and nutty Douanier when we have a hankering, but Gruyère is a cheese I have long associated with one thing: quiche. Not that there’s anything wrong with quiche, but it’s one of those foods that I associate with the ‘80s — a decade that, for the moment, I have no desire to return to.

But Gruyère is delicious. Swiss in origin, made from the milk of grain-fed cows with no additives used in the maturing process, the cheese is (according to the official website) “reasonably firm,” but not at all crumbly, with a nutty, sometimes fruity flavour and pleasant stink. I like it best for melting on things, but it is also quite nice with apples and ginger snaps.

It was actually a few months back that a chef friend — in response to my post on amaranth — suggested grating a little Gruyère over a plate of grilled flank steak and braised greens. How odd, I replied. And how delicious. But it was only this last weekend when I found myself at the market with an armful of fat leeks and a bag of butternut squash that the idea came back to me in vegetarian form: roasted leeks and squash au gratin.

This is the kind of dish that you want to make on a cold Sunday afternoon when you have chores to do, like paper-grading or laundry, or just want to kick back and watch football or read the New York Times. If you can rope someone into helping you, the dinner takes about 30 minutes to prepare and then goes into the oven for about an hour or so at 375 F.

How-to: Cut the green tops off the leeks and wash them well — they can be used for stock, or saved for future dishes. Wash the bottom white parts and cut them into large, thick slices (the picture shows them cut length-wise, but my feeling is that cutting them cross-wise will reduce the stringiness of the dish). Lay the leeks in a large casserole dish or roasting pan.

Then peel and seed the squash and cut into thick slices. Lay the slices around the leeks, then  drizzle the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and some white wine if you have it. Put the dish into the oven for about 45 minutes or until everything is soft. When it’s all cooked through, sprinkle with a generous dusting of Gruyère and put back into the oven, but this time, on broil. Keep an eye on it, as the cheese will brown quite quickly. When it’s browned and bubbly the way you like it, pull it out and serve immediately.

This is the kind of dish that is good to make in large portions, because the next day, you can make it into a delicious soup by simply heating up some vegetable or chicken stock (I used the leek stock that I made the night before by simmering the leek greens for an hour and a half and then straining them out), adding the leftovers and then blending it up.

Read more about Stacey’s culinary adventures on her website, or follow her on Twitter @staceydewolfe

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