I wasn’t sure before this week that I was in the mood for comfort food, but I am now. With the residual New Year’s resolve to avoid the carnivorous excesses of holiday cassoulets (mea maxima culpa!) and the like, I thought to revisit a favorite vegetarian cookbook, The Savory Way, by Deborah Madison.

As founder and chef at San Francisco’s Greens Restaurant, Madison was at the vanguard and nexus of the vegetable-forward, farm-to-table and “slow food” movements that coalesced into a revolution in American eating and cooking. Her signature accomplishment was in making vegetarian food, as her book title suggests, savory, tasty and flavorful. This is perhaps best illustrated by the flageolet bean and artichoke gratin that was the inspiration for this recipe.

Flageolets are small, pale green, toothsome beans of French pedigree with a lovely, delicate flavor. (They are not easy to find but well worth seeking out; RanchoGordo.com is a reliable source, but small white limas or navy beans are an acceptable substitute.) Coupled with sauteed leeks and braised artichokes, herbed with rosemary, baked and topped by a layer of goat cheese and crunchy breadcrumb crust, this is comfort food sure to satisfy even the confirmed carnivore. 

I’ve modified Madison’s recipe to incorporate additional umami in the form of reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms, braised in their juices, and replaced the energy-intensive globe artichokes for frozen artichoke quarters to streamline prep time. Another change I might consider is, before mixing the beans and vegetables, mash or puree ¼ to ½ cup of the drained beans to thicken the body of the casserole.

In another adjustment, made for a vegan friend, I replaced the goat cheese topping with a tofu-basil-olive-oil pesto, which also works for a vegan pasta sauce or dip for crudites. (Covered and refrigerated, it will keep for up to a week.) If dairy isn’t a problem, skip the pesto and crumble 4 to 5 ounces of goat cheese over the top of the beans and vegetables, top with the breadcrumbs and bake. 

Flageolet, Leek & Artichoke Gratin
Flageolet, Leek & Artichoke Gratin

Flageolet, Leek & Artichoke Gratin 

Serves 4 to 6

For the Tofu-Basil Pesto topping:

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup silken tofu
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the casserole: 

  • 1 cup dried flageolets (substitute small white limas or navy beans) 
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, white parts only, quartered lengthwise and cut  into ⅓- to ½-inch slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted, steamed for 10 minutes, drained 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup tofu-basil pesto
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs, moistened with 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned with a pinch of salt

1. Prepare the pesto: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and process to combine. (Extra pesto may be used as a sandwich spread, pasta or pizza sauce or vegetable dip.)

2. Soak the beans for 6 hours to overnight. Cook as per standard dried bean instructions until just shy of completely cooked, i.e., al dente. (You do know how to cook beans, right?) Drain, reserving the cooking liquid. While the beans cook, prepare the vegetables. 

3. Soak porcini mushrooms in 1 cup boiling water for 20 minutes and drain, reserving soaking liquid. Chop mushrooms roughly and set aside. In a small saucepan reduce soaking liquid by half and set aside. Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add ¼ cup of the sliced leeks and 1 teaspoon of the minced garlic and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add chopped mushroom and saute for 5 minutes. Lower heat and add mushroom reduction and soy sauce, cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve to a small bowl. Wipe saute pan clean and warm 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add remaining leeks, garlic and rosemary; cook for about 4 minutes. Add artichokes and cook for an additional 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, gently mix the cooked and drained beans, cooked artichokes and mushrooms. Add a bit of the reserved bean liquid to moisten. Correct seasoning and fill a gratin dish or casserole with the mixture. Spread the pesto evenly over the beans. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over all, and bake until beans are hot and the crust is browned (about 30 to 45 minutes). Serve warm.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Dizney is a designer, art director and unrepentant sensualist. When the Cold Spring resident is not thinking about food, he is foraging for, cooking or eating it. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Food

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