When you spend all day braising lamb for a dinner party and it’s the potatoes your guests rave about, you know you’re on to something. Indeed, this potato gratin, known as pommes dauphinois in France, or plain old scalloped potatoes in my family, is easy to put together but altogether dreamy and delicious to eat.
The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table and is made of layers of thinly sliced potatoes bathed in garlic-infused cream and topped with cheese, then baked until the cheese melts and the potatoes turn soft on the inside, slightly crusty on top. The dish lends itself to much improvisation, as Greenspan explains in her “Bonne Idée”: for a dash of colour, try substituting sweet potato for an equal amount of russets, or add a layer of cooked chopped spinach or chard, sautéed mushrooms, or steamed small broccoli florets. Bits of cooked bacon or strips of lightly sautéed pancetta would also work well, and in place of the Gruyère, try Parmesan or a blue cheese like Gorgonzola.
To make these potatoes even more authentic, I baked then in traditional pottery from the Alsace region of France, which I found at the gorgeous Arthur Quentin store in Montreal. And because I wasn’t feeding eight people, I cut the recipe in half, and it worked perfectly. This is great comfort food for the cold-weather days ahead.
- 1¾ cup heavy cream
- 3 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and finely chopped
- 2-2¼ pounds Idaho (russet) potatoes
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Light cream or whole milk, if needed
- Small thyme or rosemary sprigs (optional)
- ¼ pound cheese, preferably Gruyère, grated (about 1 cup)
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment. Generously butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate (a Pyrex pan is perfect) or other 2-quart baking pan and put it on the baking sheet.
- Put the heavy cream and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over low heat. Keep it warm while you work on the potatoes.
- If you've got a mandoline or Benriner slicer, now's the time to get it out; if not, you can use the thin slicing blade of a food processor or a sturdy sharp knife. One by one, peel the potatoes and slice them into rounds about ⅛ inch thick. As each potato is cut, arrange the slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles in the pie plate (or rows, if your pan isn't round), season with salt and pepper, and spoon over some of the warm garlic-infused cream, lightly pressing down on the potatoes with the back of the spoon so that the cream works its way around all of the slices. Continue until you've filled the pan. If you're shy of a little garlic-infused cream - you want the cream to just peek around the edges of the pan - pour over a little light cream or milk. If you're using the herbs, strew them over the potatoes. Dust the top of the gratin with the grated cheese.
- Slide the gratin (on the baking sheet) into the oven and bake for 45 minutes, then check the gratin; if you can poke a knife through the potatoes and easily reach the bottom of the pan, the gratin is done. If the potatoes need more time but the gratin is getting too brown, cover the top loosely with foil and bake until the potatoes are tender, another 15 minutes or so.
- Remove the gratin from the oven and let it rest in a very warm place (or in the turned-off oven with the door open) for 5 to 10 minutes before you serve it, just so the bubbles can settle down and the potatoes can absorb the maximum amount of cream.
- Serves: 8