Creamy Twice Baked Potatoes with Spring Veggies

Nothing says Spring quite like leeks, artichokes, and fennel.  Fennel flaunts its sharp licorice flavor that tones down only through cooking.  Artichokes join with their delicate tangy heart-chunks.  Leeks give a sweeter, more subtle flavor than onions.  All of them together, combined with a low-fat, high-flavor cream sauce, stuffed in a crispy potato shell…now there’s a tribute to Spring.

This recipe is another inspiration from Crescent Dragonwagon’s The Passionate Vegetarian.  It’s originally a leftover variation of “Gratin of Fennel and Artichoke,” but I decided to make it our main event of dinner.  All right, it was my main course, I sizzled up a chicken sausage for my carnivore husband.

I switched up a couple of ingredients, using leeks instead of onions, and since I had it laying around, added dry sage.  As always, I also upped the amount of garlic cloves and put in both the zest and juice of a lemon instead of just the zest.

Printable recipe PDF: Twice Baked Potatoes with Spring Veggies

Step-by-step, for all you visual people (like me) out there.

Start with baking 6 potatoes.  Prick each 7-10 times with a fork to let air in and steam out.  I’ve heard horror stories of potatoes bursting in the oven while baking. To speed up this process, I recommend par-baking them in the microwave first.  This means zapping 3 at a time for 3 minutes.  It’ll help speed up the baking process and make sure the middle cooks.

While these bake, make the creamy sauce.  Think of it in two parts, sauteing the vegetables and making a low-fat cream sauce.

Here’s what you need for the vegetables:That would be 2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, 1 leek, only the white and light green bottom, 1 giant fennel bulb, and 1 14-ounce can of artichoke hearts.  Oophs…forgot to photograph the 5 cloves of garlic and the lemon.

(Side note: Fresh artichokes are A LOT of work and annoyance to get to the heart.  I’ve personally gone “all pure” in the past, and had some difficulty finding the heart amist everything that I had to throw away.  Frustration drove me to give up and walk a block to our market to get a can of hearts.  If you have the time and the know-how, by all means, use fresh artichokes)

Start by thinly slicing your leeks.Over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter until brown and sizzling.  Add leeks and saute 3-5 minutes.  Add 5 cloves minced garlic, zest and juice of 1 lemon.  Saute a couple minutes more.

Halve the artichoke hearts.Add sliced fennel on top of the leeks.  Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring to combine.  Then add the artichoke hearts to heat through.While this heats, make your low-fat cream sauce to add to it.
Here’s what you will need (plus 1/4 cup water to dissolve the cornstarch)In a small saucepan, over low heat, bring the milk and 3-5 dried sage leaves to a low simmer.In a liquid measuring cup, dissolve 1 Tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon of cornstarch in 1/4 cup water.  Add to the milk.Melt in 2 ounces of cream cheese (1/4 of the whole package) to the milk.  Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning.

Add low-fat “cream” sauce to the vegetables.  Stir to combine.  Cook for 8-10 more minutes, until it thickens.  In the meantime, prepare the potato skins.Halve potatoes.  Make sure they are one uniform color.  If you notice the middle looks slightly yellow in color, they need to cook longer.  Fast way: microwave.  Slow way: oven.Use a spoon to scoop out the insides.  Place in a bowl.  If your potatoes aren’t cook fully, some of your skins may end up not so useful.

You want them to look like this:Not like this:Mash up the potato insides.  Add the creamy vegetables.  Mix well.Stuff each potato as much as you can.  I always have leftover filling; just use it as a side mashed potato mix.  Top with feta cheese.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 more minutes, until browned on top.  Serve with a light cabbage salad.  Carnivores may need a sausage.

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