I was watching ‘The Chew’ one day last week while I ate my lunch. With very fortunate timing, I turned it on just as Clinton started making a spinach and potato gratin that looked just plain delicious. At that time, I was still thinking about a green vegetable-based side dish for my Thanksgiving potluck; his ooey-gooey, steamy, cheesy spinach goodness looked so tasty, and everyone who had a bite was raving… I was sold. But– and this is a big one– I didn’t want to make it with potatoes. Thanksgiving is for mashed potatoes, and I felt that two potato dishes would be too much on an already laden table. And then I had a thought: why not replace potatoes with parsnips? I love parsnips. They’re firm enough to hold up to being baked in sauce and mild enough to play well with the spinach and cheese. And, just like that, this idea was born.
Parsnip & spinach gratin is every bit as comforting and delicious as every potato gratin I’ve ever had. The parsnips lend a slightly sweet, almost herbaceous (cooked parsnips remind me of the flavor of parsley) taste that is nicely balanced by the dark greens and creamy cheese. I used frozen spinach for convenience but think fresh spinach, kale or chard would work just as well– you’ll just need to spend some time removing the stems, cooking it down, cooling and chopping it. I used one of my very favorite cheeses, Sartori Balsamic Bellavitano, because it was nicely priced at the grocery store when I was shopping for ingredients. Any Gruyere, Emmentaler or similar will do just as well, providing it’s a mild cheese that will melt. Go with your favorite. Lastly, I used whole milk to make the base of the sauce; if you’d like something even richer and more luxurious, you can substitute cream for any or all of the milk.
Whether you’re cooking for a lavish holiday meal or a weeknight dinner, this parsnip & spinach gratin has a place on the table. I am so happy to have stumbled on the recipe that provided inspiration– I just know this is a dish I will be making for years to come.
Parsnip & Spinach Gratin (inspired by The Chew)
- 4 T. unsalted butter
- 1/2 c. sliced leeks (white and light green parts only) or chopped onions
- 1/4 c. flour
- 2 1/2 c. whole milk (or cream, or a mix of both)
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg, freshly ground if you can
- 1 c. shredded Sartorti Balsamic Bellavitano (or Gruyere, or Emmentaler, etc.)
- 8 oz. package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained well
- pinch of kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 lbs. parsnips (about 4 medium), peeled and sliced 1/8″ thick*
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2 qt. casserole dish or equivalent shallow baking dish.
In a large skillet or saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the leeks until soft, about 5-7 mins. Push the leeks to one side of the pan and add the flour to the butter; stir until you have a thick paste and then stir to incorporate the leeks. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 mins. to cook the raw flour flavor out of your roux. Add the milk slowly: stir in 1/2 c. at a time, whisking to incorporate the roux without creating lumps. Continue cooking until your sauce thickens.
Remove the thickened sauce from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, shredded cheese and drained spinach. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir in the sliced parsnips, making sure they are separated so each slice gets coated in cheesy sauce. Pour the parsnip and sauce mixture into your prepared dish and smooth it out into a mostly even layer; bake for 75 mins., until the parsnips are fork tender and the top is beautifully browned. Serve hot.
To make ahead: follow all steps above, including cooking. Cool to room temperature and cover tightly with foil; refrigerate for up to 48 hours. Before reheating, bring the dish back to room temperature.
Leftover gratin will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.
*You can use a mandoline if you like, but you’ll be just fine provided your slices are consistent. Don’t worry about having larger slices from the top of the parsnips than the ones from the ends. The cooking time and method will be sufficient to even out any differences.