Tomato, Potato and Leek Gratin – Chef Hugh Acheson
December has had an interesting weather pattern so far this year. With temperatures ranging from the 50s to 70s and days feeling more like springtime than late fall or winter, it’s hard to believe that Christmas will be here in just a week.
Unconventional weather seems like the perfect opportunity to shake up our Christmas Day menu planning. It’s tempting to have a picnic or BBQ and dine outdoors, but I guess we won’t take it to that extreme. For now, we’re dining indoors and baked ham is on the menu, which is pretty traditional. However, I am changing things up by ditching my old standard side dishes to make way for new ones to liven up the meal. One of these is Tomato, Potato, and Leek Gratin.
This dish was one of several that were served at a cooking demo and luncheon I was invited to recently at Empire State South, a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. Chef and owner Hugh Acheson hosted the event. The menu he prepared featured Tuttorosso tomatoes in all of the dishes. As a self proclaimed tomato aficionado under the tutelage of farmer girl Brooke Eckmann of Ambrosia Farm just outside Louisville, Kentucky (she grows 86 varieties of heirloom tomatoes), I was interested and excited to see what dishes Chef Acheson would create with canned tomatoes. Everything we had that day was excellent, but I think this Tomato, Potato, and Leek Gratin was particularly outstanding, and the tomatoes came from a can. It surprised me.
In addition to the lunch, we had the opportunity to compare and taste Tuttorosso tomatoes along with other popular brands of canned tomatoes. One of them was a brand of Italian tomatoes that I purchase, which are quite expensive. After tasting all of the brands, I was shocked at how bitter several of them were (especially the Italian brand) and also how unattractive they were in comparison. Not that looks are everything, but the beautiful red color of the Tuttorosso tomatoes and the fact that their whole tomatoes were much firmer than the others does make a difference in the cooking process and appearance of the final dish. Most importantly, the taste was what was so surprising.
Who actually opens a can of tomatoes and tastes them before adding them to a recipe? I would guess not too many people. Participating in this taste test changed what I will do going forward and I will definitely taste the tomatoes before adding them to a recipe. Now I know why I often need to add a bit of sugar when using certain tomatoes; it’s to counteract the bitterness of the ingredient. I doubt this would happen when using the Tuttorosso tomatoes after tasting how sweet they are.
For the gratin, this dish bakes up beautifully and is the perfect companion to serve with a baked ham or roast turkey for either a holiday brunch or dinner. It’s also hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian entrée when paired with a few other side dishes or salads. Sautéed leeks and sliced potatoes seasoned with olive oil and fresh thyme are layered with a creamy and cheesy tomato-basil sauce. For a rustic presentation, prepare the dish in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet (like the version at Empire State South) and serve it from the skillet. Alternatively, you can prepare the gratin in a casserole dish for a more elegant affair.
Whether you serve this for your holiday meal or save the recipe for a special evening at home or weeknight supper with family, I’m sure you will enjoy this recipe from Chef Acheson as much as I did.
Tomato, Potato, and Leek Gratin
- 2 leeks
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (Chef Acheson recommends Plugra)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (Chef Acheson uses Diamond Cystal)
- 5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, about 1 pound
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 (28 ounce) can Tuttorosso® No Salt Added Peeled Plum Italian Style Tomatoes
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed, torn into pieces
- 1 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 400º F.
- Leaving roots intact, slice leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse under cold water to dislodge any dirt between the layers. Most dirt is where the leek changes from white to green, about halfway up. Cut off dark green parts and discard. Slice the leeks into ¼ inch half-rounds all the way down to the root. Discard roots.
- Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook until wilted and tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and season with ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt.
- Using a mandolin, slice skin-on potatoes into ⅛ inch thick rounds. Place slices in a bowl of cold water, rinse for 10 seconds, and drain. Place drained potatoes in a bowl and toss with 1½ tablespoons of olive oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt, black pepper, and fresh thyme. Toss well and set aside.
- Drain tomatoes in a colander. Working over the colander, use your hands to gently open the tomatoes and tear into large, flat chunks. Place drained tomato pieces into a bowl. Toss with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, fresh torn basil, ¾ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, and heavy cream.
- In an 8×8 inch casserole dish or a 9 inch cast-iron pan or a pie plate, spread ⅓ of the leeks in the bottom of the dish. Layer with ⅓ of the potato slices, shingling them around in a circle until the surface is covered. Spread ⅓ of the tomato mixture over the potatoes. Repeat two more times.
- Transfer casserole to the oven and bake 35 minutes. Briefly remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return casserole to oven and cook for an additional 25 minutes, until surface is bubbling and the cheese has browned.
- Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes and serve.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Hugh Acheson and Tuttorosso tomatoes