Although most of us love a spud, how many of us swear allegiance to the tarnished, orange flesh of a swede, the creamy, nutty delights of a parsnip or the bright, white celeriac with its mass of Medusa-like roots? But with a few well-chosen ingredients, these earthy root vegetables are easily transformed. Here, I bake them in a heady, garlicky, thyme-scented cream seasoned with softened onions and melted anchovies, and showered with rosemary- and cheese-flecked crumbs, allowing the roots to sparkle with their rich, velvety goodness.
Ogleshield and Witheridge are two cheeses whose flavours are exceptional when heated and grilled; parmesan, mature cheddar or Lincolnshire poacher would work wonders here, too.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
100g unsalted butter
2 large white onions, peeled and sliced (about 350g)
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
30g anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
2-3 tbsp thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
250ml double cream
300ml chicken or vegetable stock
400g parsnips or swede, peeled and cut into ½cm-thick slices
400g celeriac, peeled and cut into ½cm-thick slices
400g waxy potatoes, such as roosevelt or desiree, peeled and cut into ½cm-thick slices
For the breadcrumbs
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
1-2 tbsp thyme leaves
A few sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
50-60g freshly grated Ogleshield (or cheddar, Lincolnshire Poacher or parmesan)
3 tbsp olive oil
Melt the butter in a wide, fairly shallow ovenproof dish (or just a wide frying pan – if it’s not ovenproof, transfer the mix to one later). Once melted, add the onions, garlic, anchovies and thyme, season generously and cook over a medium-low heat for about 25 minutes while you prepare the root veg. Do not let the onions colour and do not stop until they are meltingly soft.
Pour in the cream and stock, heat through and taste to check the seasoning, remembering that the root vegetables will absorb much of the saltiness. Remove from the heat.
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/gas 5. Add the sliced vegetables to the onion cream and toss gently to coat (transfer the mix to an ovenproof dish now, if need be). Mix the breadcrumbs, thyme, rosemary and cheese in a bowl, then scatter over the the top of the vegetable mix, season the top lightly and drizzle with the oil.
Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid/foil and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the breadcrumbs golden. Leave to cool slightly before serving with steamed greens and/or sliced ham, roast chicken or a pork chop.
The anchovy adds delicious saltiness to this indulgent gratin (pancetta cubes would have a similar effect); if you leave them out, stir some mild umami-rich chilli flakes, such as urfa or ancho, lots of black pepper and nutmeg, or even Marmite into the cream.