Harvest Time: Garlicky Gruyere Potatoes Au Gratin

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)

Ingredients

 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

Procedure

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

Puerto Rican “Hot Pockets”–Empanadillas

Empanadillas with Guacamole

Empanadillas are the Puerto Rican version of empanadas, a stuffed pastry popular in Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Philippines.  They are made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over filling creating the typical semicircular shape. Fillings might include beef, ham, chicken, fish, cheese or fruit.  They can be baked or fried.

The name empanada, comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. They are served as an appetizer/tapas, side dish or dessert.  In any form, they’re crisp and delicious.

(Liberally adapted from recipes by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli and Yasmin Hernandez)

Ingredients

Dough:  (Makes 12 empanadillas)

3 cups all purpose flour

½ t baking soda

½ t baking powder

1 t salt

¼ cup peanut or vegetable oil

1 cup warm water

½ t achiotina* (optional for color)

Filling:

2 T olive oil

1 lb ground beef

½ medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ small jalapeno, minced

½ sweet pepper, diced

1/8 cup pimiento stuffed green olives, sliced

2 T sofrito**

1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 T tomato paste

1 pkg. Goya Sazon with annatto

½ t salt

¼ t freshly ground black pepper

Cooking: 4 cups vegetable or peanut oil for deep frying

Procedure (for dough)

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with a metal blade. Pulse briefly.  Add vegetable oil and up to 1 cup water until the dough comes together. Remove dough and knead for 2-3 minutes. Let rest in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes.  Divide into 12 pieces and then roll into 4-inch round disks.

Filling: Brown ground beef in olive oil.  Drain off excess fat. Add remainder of ingredients and cook for10 minutes over medium heat stirring from time to time.  Let cool. Place 2 tablespoons of filling in each round of dough, fold over and crimp with the tines of a fork to seal tightly.

Deep frying:  Heat vegetable oil in a deep skillet to 350 degrees.  Deep fry a few at a time until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on brown paper or paper towels.  Drain on both sides.  Be sure to bring temperature of oil back up to 350 degrees before adding another batch of empanadillas. Enjoy your special treat!

*achiotina is lard in which a few annatto seeds have been fried and then strained ou

**Basic Sofrito

1 t olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

¼ cup chopped tomato

¼ cup chopped onion

3-4 stem and leaves cilantro

1/8 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/8 cup chopped red bell pepper

Grind and pound ingredients in a pilon (mortar and pestle)

(Leftover sofrito can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator).

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

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