Monday, September 5, 2011

Bean, Veg, and Whole Grain Gratin

I often say that I like to try new things; but, being nearly thirty-three years old means I don't actually do it very often. Like the rest of the universe, I get stuck in my way of doing things and it becomes habit to pick out certain styles of clothes season after season, hang out with a select group of friends, and automatically buy the same foods at the grocery store each visit.

Today I tried to break out of that mold when the fennel at the grocery store didn't look as good as I wanted it to. I decided to buy a rutabaga for my recipe instead, and smugly congratulated myself through the store and all the way home for my substitution bravery.

I know I've eaten rutabagas before in my life - I am a Scandanavian/Minnesotan after all, and this vegetable is also known as "the Swede." But I don't recall hating it so intensely. I really, truly, honestly dislike rutabaga as of today. It now joins turnips and eggplant on my very short list of vegetables that I do not care for.

The rest of this dish is so good, however, that despite having to pick out the rutabaga chunks (and there are a boatload of them), I really was happy with my dinner. That's something at least. The moral of this story ISN'T that you should think twice before trying something new...quite the opposite! I wouldn't know how much I love celeriac, or leeks, or jicama, or parsnips, or a million other delicious foods without giving them a chance.

The moral is: always find the silver lining when something unexpected happens. This bean, vegetable, and whole grain gratin is delicious despite the rutabaga, will feed an army, costs next to nothing to make, and is a complete one-pot meal that contains all your necessary proteins, carbs, and vegetables! It tastes like a comforting creamy/cheesy casserole (hotdish to us Minnesotans) that your mom would have made for you when you were a little kid. Only it's really, really good for you.

I've kept the name as generic as possible so that you can substitute anything you like to custom fit this recipe to your taste buds. So if you love rutabaga (Marney!), go wild. It's a lovely fall dish that smells amazing cooking away in your oven while Bob Dylan sings to you, birds chirp in the trees, and children laugh in the street. Let's not take our holidays for granted, this one was gorgeous!

Bean, Vegetable, and Whole Grain Gratin, loosely inspired by this Veg Times recipe
Serves at least 6 as a main dish

6 cups diced vegetables (I used carrots, onion, kale, and rutabaga-ew! fennel or parsnips would have been good)
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
3 cans or pints cooked beans with liquid (I used Great Northern, Navy, and Garbanzo)
1 cup cooked whole grain (I used oat groats, but you can substitute brown rice, quinoa, wheatberries, farro, millet, barley, or whatever you like)
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup hard cheese, finely grated (I used pecorino romano, but parmesan, asiago, or any other hard cheese will do).
2 cups bread crumbs
salt, pepper, and olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large dutch oven or pot, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter. When melted, add all your diced vegetables, 1 tsp salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and 3 bay leaves. Stir occasionally and cook until all veggies are soft. Remove bay leaves. Deglaze pan with vinegar.

Add 3 cans or pints of beans, including the cooking liquid. Add the cooked whole grain also. Add a big handful of chopped parsley, the bouillon cube, and 1 cup finely grated hard cheese. Stir well.

The liquid level should be as high or a bit higher than the beans because you are going to cook this in the oven and you don't want it to get dry. So, you may need to add some water, stock, or broth until you can see the liquid level rise to the same level as the beans.

Mix bread crumbs with more parsley, cheese, and freshly cracked black pepper. Spread this mixture over the beans then drizzle with olive oil. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes and top of breadcrumbs are golden brown and toasty.

Remove from oven and let gratin rest for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Serve with a fresh green salad.

ONE YEAR AGO: Carrot Cake
TWO YEARS AGO: Rainbow Rollup

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