And, since Liz asked nicely:
ROOT VEGETABLE GRATIN WITH BÉCHAMEL SAUCE
Proof that gratins don’t have to include cheese. Made this for dinner last night (along with reheated soybeans ‘n’ hijiki and some collards and kale with asafoetida), and it was the undisputed champion. Adapted from Deborah Madison.
First, the béchamel. Slowly heat 2 cups milk with a couple of slices of onion, a crushed garlic clove, a couple of bay leaves, and some parsley and thyme if you’ve got them. As soon as it reaches a boil, take it off the heat. In another pot, melt 4 tablespoons butter, stir in 3 tablespoons flour, and cook for one minute. Immediately add the hot milk with stuff in it. Cook it until it’s gotten thick; transfer it to a double boiler, cover, and cook for 25 minutes.
You’re going to be doing most of the rest while the sauce is in the double boiler, so you might want to peel & cut a bit in advance. Preheat the oven to 375°. Lightly butter a 2-quart casserole or gratin dish. Peel a mediumish rutabaga, chop it into strips, and boil them in salted water for two minutes, then drain them and dump them into the casserole. Chop up a small onion finely, and fry it in a tablespoon of butter over medium heat for about 8 minutes, then into the casserole it goes. Peel and cut up a bag of carrots, three smallish turnips, and a medium-size parsnip into whatever shapes you like, and add them to the casserole too. Add salt and pepper and mix it up.
By this point, your béchamel should be ready. Squish it through a strainer onto the top of the casserole–it’ll be very thick. Sprinkle on a little more salt and pepper. Cover the whole thing with a cup of fresh bread crumbs–I just grated a loaf of day-old herb bread I’d made in the bread machine. Stick it in the oven for 45 minutes or so; it’ll become golden and bubbly, and the root vegetables will retain some of their original texture but not quite their crunchiness.
Further proof that gratins, especially potato gratins, don’t need cheese rests with Jeffrey Steingarten’s recipe for Gratin Dauphinois. Which, if you don’t have the appropriate back issue of Vogue or his latest book, I can provide.