Home for the holidays: Potatoes au gratin

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Potato au gratin

So, are you finding yourself deep in the pot cabinet or the back of the pantry looking for that big roasting dish? Tis the season for digging out the big pots and feeding lots of people.

This is a potato recipe that works well for holiday buffets. Besides, who can resist potatoes and cheese?

Potatoes au GratinPotato au gratin mis en place

4 lb of russet potatoes
1 small sweet potato
1 small onion thinly slices
1 ½ cups milk
4 oz grated parmigiana
4 oz thinly sliced Swiss cheese
4 oz thinly sliced cheddar cheese
4 oz thinly sliced Gruyere

Salt, pepper, nutmeg, olive oil

Peel and thinly slice the russet potatoes. Drop the slices into a bowl of cold water. When all the potatoes are sliced, drain the water and rinse the slices in cold water again, repeat one more time. You are doing this to remove some of the excess starch from the potatoes, which means they will stay crisper and not melt together into a big shapeless pile of potato mush.

Peel and thinly slice the sweet potato.

The cheeses listed above are not set in stone, if you have a favorite, go for it, but choose well-mannered cheeses that play nicely with the other cheeses.  For example, blue cheese and cottage cheese would be terrible together! Don’t even think about cottage cheese, or anything that comes pre-sliced. Promise me, ok?

Potato au gratin ready for the oven
Preheat oven to 350F.

Use a nice roasting dish that holds all the potatoes and that can go directly to the table; a glass or ceramic dish would work very nicely.

Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of the dish and then start to layer the ingredients. Make a thick layer of white potatoes on the bottom, that way if anything sticks you’ll have a good solid base layer. Add a little bit of salt to one or two of the layers. Go easy on the salt, as the cheeses will also add a salty element.  About mid-way through, add the layer of sweet potatoes. They add some color and sweetness; I like to layer them near the onions.  Keep the grated parmigiana for the top layer, but before you add the parmigiana, pour the milk over the potatoes. Don’t worry if the liquid doesn’t come all the way up to the top layer of potatoes. As the potatoes bake and soften they will start to collapse down and into the milk. Do not overfill the baking pan or you will be cursing me from now till kingdom come because that pan is going to overflow and make a mess in your oven.  Add another little drizzle of olive oil on the last layers of potatoes, and then add the parmigiana and a few scrapes of nutmeg. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, when the top should be nice and brown and the potatoes soft.

This recipe is enough for about 10 servings.

A question about the milk: classic recipes call for scalded milk, or milk that has been brought to the boiling point. I remember being told, I think by my Mom, that scalding would prevent the milk from boiling up and spilling over. I just did a little google research and based on my own experience, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific reason for boiling already pasteurized milk. Any other thoughts on scalding milk?

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