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Recipes and Stories

18 April 2014 Easter IV—The Potatoes

Classic French pommes de terre gratinée (potato gratin)

Regardless of whether you choose lamb or ham (or neither—or both) for your Easter feast, nothing will make the dinner seem quite as special as will this classic French gratin. The ingredients are simple and few, and the preparation requires almost no real skill on the part of the cook, but you will not finding anything more elegant and yet elementally satisfying to eat.

But the best thing of all for a busy cook who cannot be in the kitchen on Easter morning is that it can be made a day ahead. When I’m doing that, I usually take it from the oven as soon as the potatoes are barely tender and the top is just beginning to brown. I let it cool completely, then cover and refrigerate it if I’m making it a day ahead. Take it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for at least half an hour (an hour would be better), then reheat it a 375 degree oven until it is golden brown and bubbly at the center.

Classic Potato Gratin
Serves 8-10

2 large yellow onions, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes, (“baking” potatoes, about 4 large)
2 cups (1 pint carton) heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, thyme, or parsley, optional
2 ½ cups (8 ounces) grated Comté or Gruyère cheese
Salt and whole white or black pepper in a peppermill
Whole nutmeg in a grater

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400° F. Generously butter a 3 quart gratin or 10x15 2½-baking dish. I use an old-fashioned Le Creuset enameled iron gratin; the one in the photograph is a classic white Revol rectangular casserole.

2. Put the butter and onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté, tossing often, until tender and evenly colored a deep gold, about 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to let them scorch.

3. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the potatoes with a sharp knife, mandoline, or food processor fitted with a slicing blade. Put them into a large mixing bowl and add the onion, cream, herbs, if using, and 2 cups of the cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste and toss well.

4. Pour this into the prepared casserole, scraping the bowl with a spatula. Flatten and level the top with the spatula and sprinkle with the remaining cheese over it. Put it into the oven and reduce the heat to 375°. Bake about an hour and 15 to 30 minutes, or until potatoes are very tender and bubbly at the center and the top is golden brown. If it begins browning before the potatoes are tender, reduce the heat to 350°. Serve hot or warm.

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