Words by Joe Yonan, The Washington Post
I've written before that one of my favourite childhood food memories is of my mother's scalloped potatoes. So simple - thickly sliced potatoes, layered in a Pyrex dish with butter, cream, a little salt and pepper. I loved them then, and I love them now.
Still, I like to branch out. I've added mushrooms, replaced the cream with mushroom broth and sprinkled on Gruyere cheese. I long ago fell for the much fancier French potatoes dauphinoise and related dishes. Root vegetables can add more flavour, too: Slice them thinly, bathe them in seasonings and fat, and they'll satisfy, especially in the cold-weather months.
For a special occasion - say, Thanksgiving - I like Timothy Pakron's idea in his new book, "Mississippi Vegan" (Avery).
He uses potatoes, butternut squash and golden beets and stands the slices up in a loaf pan, creating an accordion design evocative of Hasselback potatoes. A paste of olive oil, garlic, herbs and nutritional yeast gives them tons of flavour.
I had to mess with his timing and slicing strategies pretty dramatically - those beets need to be thinner, and still take much longer, than the potatoes and squash - but the result is impressive.
On any given weeknight, you might not want to spend the 2 1/2 hours it takes to get this twist on a casserole done.
But for a dinner party? It would be worth every minute.
Scalloped Root Casserole
4 to 6 servings
In testing, we used an 81/2-by-41/2-inch Pyrex loaf pan
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
6 large cloves garlic, quartered
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large (3-pound) butternut squash, peeled
1 large (12-ounce) russet potato, peeled
1 large (1 pound) golden beet, peeled
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the oil, garlic, rosemary, nutritional yeast, dried thyme, dried oregano, salt and pepper in a mini food processor or use a mortar and pestle. Puree or mash to form a smooth paste.
Cut the butternut squash into two parts; you will be using the top, cylindrical section, and you can find a later use for the rest (bulbous, with seeds).
Use a mandoline to cut the squash into 1/8-inch slices, and the potato and beet into 1/16-inch slices. (If you need to slice by hand and/or otherwise can't slice the beet and potato that thin, cut them into 1/8-inch slices and microwave the beet on HIGH for 3 minutes and the potato for 1 minute, then let cool before assembly.)
Toss the vegetable slices with the paste in a mixing bowl, adding a little more oil if needed, so they are all evenly coated. Assemble the casserole by alternating stand-up, accordion-style layers of potato, squash and beet in a small loaf pan (see headnote) or baking dish.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil; bake (middle rack) for 1 1/2 hours, until the vegetables are almost tender when pierced with a fork.
Discard the foil; increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and roast until the tops of the vegetables are crisped and golden brown, and the vegetable slices are very tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (From time to time, insert a pastry brush along the inside of the pan, where juices should be bubbling, so you can baste the top of the vegetables; this will help keep them moist.)
Serve warm, garnished with rosemary sprigs.
Adapted from "Mississippi Vegan: Recipes and Stories From a Southern Boy's Heart," by Timothy Pakron (Avery, 2018).
Feature Image: Tom McCorkle, The Washington Post