There's nothing more comforting (or impressive) on a cold winter night than a hot gratin from the oven. Here are four easy vegetable sides, a cheesy baked dip, and our favorite French onion soup -- gratinée, of course. Brought to you by the spirited home cooks' community at Food52.
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An oldie but a goodie, this hearkens back to my cooking school days, with some thanks also to Julia Child. - Merrill Get the recipe Photo: Sarah Shatz
Creamed spinach with a crunch, Lizthechef's gratin applies a layer of finesse to an age-old comfort food. A fragrant onion bechamel, made savory with a generous addition of Gruyere, envelops chopped spinach in its lush embrace without overwhelming it. We especially love the layer of buttery-crisp, salty panko crowning the top. Pair with some steak, a baked potato and a nice Cabernet, and you've got one heck of a meal. - Amanda & Merrill Get the recipe Photo: Sarah Shatz
This is almost, but not quite, the traditional French onion soup that comes to mind. It starts with a full three pounds of onions and some smashed garlic, which you caramelize slowly and thoroughly in butter and olive oil. You add thyme and bay leaf and some rich veal stock (homemade is highly recommended both by wcfoodies and by us), and then it's time for the crowning glory: two full cups of wine or beer. We used a dark ale and really liked the bit of kick that the finished soup still had after two plus hours on the stove. Take your time with the onions, and use the three-cheese combo instead of a deli slice. And don't forget to put a piece of toast in the bottom of each bowl -- it makes for a lovely surprise. - Amanda & Merrill Get the recipe Photo: Sarah Shatz
Sweet potatoes are often made even more sweet using ingredients like maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses and even marshmallows. We like that apartmentcooker goes definitively in the other direction by adding bacon, parmesan, onion, garlic and a crème fraîche bechamel, while still paying homage to more traditional recipes (she adds a tablespoon of brown sugar to the bechamel, with delightful results). Thinly sliced sweet potatoes are layered in the baking dish (we used one dish big enough for two rather than individual ones) with bechamel, crisped bacon, raw onions and garlic, which infuse the gratin with their fragrance. A sprinkling of parmesan on top helps with browning, but if you want a little more color, pop the gratin under the broiler for a few minutes at the end. We found that 20-25 minutes baking time was perfect for a two-person baking dish. - Amanda & Merrill Get the recipe Photo: Sarah Shatz
The secret to a great gratin is not trying too hard. Potatoes are delicious; there's no need to smother them. And this is a point that AlexisC clearly gets. Her potatoes are gently scented with leek and garlic and enriched with cream and Gruyere. AlexisC has you bake the gratin at a fairly low temp -- 300 degrees -- so by the time the gratin emerges from the oven, the layers of potato are buttery in texture and topped with a crisp, caramelized crust. As for all gratins, buy yourself a mandoline (the best are the inexpensive Japanese-style ones) -- it will preserve your sanity and make for uniform slices. - Amanda & Merrill Get the recipe Photo: Sarah Shatz
Most dips involve dumping a bunch of ingredients in a bowl and mixing them until smooth. If the ingredients are good quality, you'll end up with something worth dipping a chip into, but if you're like singing_baker and you tweak some of those ingredients, you'll end up with an unforgettable hors d'oeuvre. First, you roast the fennel and garlic, to bring out their sugars and intensify their flavors. You simmer the white beans (we used canned) in a fragrant garlic-and-rosemary oil. You blend the beans and fennel with more oil so the mixture lightens like a good whipped salt cod and potato puree. And, finally, you spoon it all into a baking dish, cover it with cheese, and slide it into a hot oven so the top of the dip toasts, leaving you with a crisp veil over the pillowy dip. You won't even remember the work that went into it once you're showered with praise. - Amanda & Merrill Get the recipe Photo: Sarah Shatz
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