Last Sunday, peering out of the smudged window of the bus delivering me back to South East London, I wasn't feeling well at all. A Christmas cocktail of mulled wine, gin and some bad dancing rendered me forlorn and nauseous in the aftermath. I could only think of comfort; something chickeny, something decadently creamy, and a dinner was born. Earthy celeriac baked in leek-scented garlicky cream accompanied our roast that night. It made for a rather brown plate of food, but nevertheless, it was the perfect cure.
The creamy base of the gratin means that you don't need a gravy, but don't waste those gorgeous, marmitey meat juices. Strain the fat off, keep it warm, and dump some freshly boiled halved new potatoes in there. The potatoes suck the juices right up, and it imparts a chickeny flavour that is second to none.
Leek & Celeriac Gratin
Serves 4 frugally, or 3 generously
1/2 a celeriac
1 fat clove of garlic
300mls double cream
150 mls milk
A scraping of nutmeg
Salt & pepper
A handful of chopped flatleaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Chop the leeks finely and wash thoroughly. In a small non-stick frying pan, fry the leeks in a little oil slowly, until they are softened and add the clove of garlic, crushed. Fry until the moisture has evaporated. Meanwhile, peel the celeriac and slice to the thickness of a pound coin. Add the cream and milk to the leeks with the nutmeg and bring to the boil.
In an appropriate dish (I used a 24cm oval Le Creuset) lay the first layer of celeriac and season with salt and pepper. Add the leeks in the cream to make a layer, then repeat with the celeriac, seasoning as you go. Add the leek cream mixture in alternate layers until you run out of celeriac. The milk and cream should cover the top of the celeriac but if it doesn't, top up with some milk. Cover with foil and place in the oven, baking for half an hour. Take the foil off, turn it down to 160 degrees C and bake for another half hour. At this point you could sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and cheese, but to be honest it's pretty rich as it is. Stand for a good 10 minutes before sprinkling with the parsley and serving.
This kind of dish is perfect with roasted meats; the oven is on anyway, and it can be finished off when the meat is resting.