What is more comforting than a side dish featuring the simple potato? Creamy mashed potatoes, crispy home fries, boiled new potatoes with their skins on, oven roasted steak fries and on and on. I love them all. One of the most satisfying, though taking a tad longer to prepare, is the rich and flavorful potatoes au gratin. The slicing, layering and baking are well worth the effort, however. You might well want to present it at your Thanksgiving table as a departure from the usual mashed potatoes this year.
Gratins are wonderfully simple side dishes that welcome experimentation. For example, play around with the infusion of milk/cream. Instead of (or in addition to) thyme, try sage or rosemary or add the white part of a roughly chopped leek to the mix. Breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan can be added just before broiling.
In addition to the potatoes here, you could add some peeled, thinly sliced squash, turnips or sweet potatoes for some great color. For a garnish, try some chopped chives. (Serves 4)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 whole cloves peeled garlic
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg
½ t salt and ¼ t freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for layering potatoes
3 large russet potatoes (or comparable amount of Yukon Gold), peeled and thinly sliced (no thicker than 1/8-inch)
4 oz. Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
1 T butter cut into a dice
1 T chopped parsley
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large saucepan, add milk and cream, garlic, thyme springs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer.
3. Add potato slices and continue cooking on low heat for 5 minutes. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
4. Generously butter a 9 by 12-inch gratin dish.
5. With a slotted spoon, add 1/3 potato mixture to baking dish. Add additional salt and pepper to each layer and 1/3 cheese.
6. Continue layering potatoes and cheese, discarding garlic cloves and thyme. Spread out and press down.
7. Pour in enough of the milk/cream mixture to come just below the top layer of potatoes, reserving any remainder. Dot with butter.
8. Cover with aluminum foil and place in oven for about 45 minutes or until potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork.
9. Remove foil. Add more of the milk/cream mixture if top layer looks dry. Place under the broiler for a few minutes just until lightly browned on top. Serve in the baking dish, garnished with chopped parsley.
Photographer Bill Brady