Carb Solutions: Creamy Potatoes au Gratin, Hold the Potatoes!
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Since being diagnosed with Diabetes-2 some twenty years ago, these two scores have become the rudder that guides my own meal plans. It is hoped that the dishes featured in this monthly blog will inspire readers to develop the habit of checking both the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load scores of a recipe’s main ingredients before preparation and cooking with more fresh produce to lower those scores. Here is one very basic list that I reference before starting to prepare any meal.
One on my tastiest culinary memories from childhood was a potato au gratin that my mother used to make regularly, serving it family style. I remember tracking that baking dish making its way around the large family table, anticipating the creamy goodness, until it arrived at what I considered its primary destination, my plate. While a low carb diet eliminates the potato part of this memory, there are ways of enjoying the au gratin pleasure with the substitution of another glycemicly neutral tuber from the fall harvest, the Celery Root.
In fact, once cooked, celery root (aka celeriac) can be prepared in the same ways as a potato i.e. boiled, baked, fried, mashed and even made into shoe strings. And, since the potato is more texture than flavor, I dare say that the hint of celery essence in the celeriac improves the taste to the gratin over the original. A cooked celery root virtually mimics that of the potato and the veggie’s versatility should be remembered when potato is called for in other recipes. Of course, the comparison of these two tuber’s glycemic index and glycemic load scores tell it all:
6 oz. baked potato = 81 [GI], 21 [GL]
6 oz. celery root = 4 [GI], 0 [GL]
I am confident that the reader would be very satisfied with the results of just swapping in celery root to your own favorite gratin recipe. However, may I suggest a gratin upgrade using two other components from the season’s bounty? While the preparation photos for this recipe show a D’Anjou Pear almost any favorite variety could be used. I chose the D’Anjou because it holds up well during the cooking process and is the most prevalent variety sold in the U.S. marketplace. Regardless of variety, use pears that are firm, preferably a bit underripe. An overripe pear will breakdown when cooked; conversely, the oven will both soften and sweeten a piece of fruit that is on the hard side. The pear adds just a hint of juicy sweetness and a velvety texture that works especially well with the gratin’s cream sauce.
The other seasonal item that will add both flavor and texture to the gratin comes in a convenient package, Melissa’s Cleaned and Sliced Leeks. Before this handy little item came along, I used to buy whole leeks and slice off the tops to store for a soup that I would never get around to making. With the rest of the leek it took some focused faucet time to scrub away the sand that always came FREE with this veggie. Then a week or so later I would invariably transfer those leek tops to the compost pile. Stop feeding the compost pile; try this no fuss/no waste package of the leek’s best part and your sand scrubbing days are over.
So there you go... a very glycemic-friendly gratin that will satisfy those childhood memory taste buds! However, it should be cautioned that those remembrances should be revisited only occasionally. While this recipe scores quite low glycemicly, its creamy cheesy calorie count is quite a different matter. Enjoy, but in moderation!
Celery Root & Pear au Gratin with Leeks
2½ cups Heavy Cream
2 Garlic Cloves, smashed
1 sprig Fresh Thyme
3 teaspoon Fresh Thyme leaves, separated from stems
2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter (¼ stick), divided
2 packages Melissa’s Cleaned & Sliced Leeks
2 pounds Celery Root, peeled, sliced crosswise ¼” thick
2 large Pears, peeled, sliced crosswise ¼” thick
2 cups Gruyère Cheese, grated
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
Heat the cream, garlic, the thyme sprig and 1 TBS of the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat until just beginning to bubble; remove from the heat, set aside to steep while completing prep.
In a mixing bowl, combine the two cheeses, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to layer.
Peel celery root, using a mandolin, slice ¼ inch rounds, then cut rounds in half.
Peel the pears, mandolin ¼ inch rounds, then cut rounds in half.
Layer ⅓ pears slices and ⅓ of celery root slices evenly over the bottom of a buttered baking dish. Cover with ⅓ of leeks, then ⅓ of the cheese and herb mix. Repeat layers twice more. Strain cream mixture into a pitcher and pour over the entire baking dish.
Set gratin dish on a large rimmed baking sheet and cover tightly with foil. Be sure foil is not touching top layer of gratin. Bake for 40 minutes, remove from oven and carefully peek off the foil.
Pop back into the oven and continue baking until top turns golden brown and sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.