Potatoes Gratin, one of the ultimate comfort foods, sounds so sophisticated and French. But this is a rustic and simple recipe, as typical of French cooking as are delicate, fancy sauces. Delicious with fish, beef, lamb or pork, it’s also a vegetarian main dish. A variety of cheeses work well, so feel free to mix it up, find your own favorite combination, and prepare to be comforted by your own version of Potatoes Gratin.
This can be an entirely local meal when ingredients are purchased at farmer’s markets or at mainstream markets where local is available.
3# potatoes (approximately 4 large, 5 or 6 of medium size)
2 cups whole milk
1 – 2 Cups cheese
Gouda, smoked Gouda, Beecher’s regular and smoked cheddar, Sea Breeze’s Vash de Vashon is a hard cheese good for grating, and Mt. Townsend Trailhead are among the local cheeses we’ve tried with this and liked.
Salt & pepper, nutmeg
Clean and thinly slice potatoes using a mandolin if you have one.
Place sliced potatoes in a cooking pot, and add the milk, not quite covering the potatoes. (Slightly more or less than 2 cups of milk will be about right for a 9″ x 12″ casserole dish.)
Bring to a gentle simmer, turn off the heat, add 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, stir and let sit.
Grate or thinly slice 1 – 2 cups of cheese, depending upon how cheesy you want it.
Spread half the potatoes and most of the milk into a buttered casserole dish and sprinkle with half the cheese; make a second layer with remaining potatoes and cheese.
Add any of the optional ingredients between potato and cheese layers. Add remaining milk until it is under, but not covering the top layer of potatoes and cheese. Adjust as needed.
Bake at 350º, 35-45 minutes.
As the gratin bakes in the oven, the milk simmers, potatoes soften, cheese melts, sauce reduces, thickens and the top becomes golden brown. When potatoes are tender and the casserole has had a chance to bubble and brown, usually 35-45 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Variations: Add a thinly sliced turnip or two, some cream with the milk, a smashed garlic, smoked salmon or ham, fresh dill or kale or a thinly sliced onion . . . Such ingredients, added to the potato mix, can deliciously embellish the basic gratin while bringing distinct PNW character to this classic dish. Protein in the form of additional cheese or meat turns this vegetable side into a main dish.
I tried this basic recipe with a layer of kale on the bottom of the casserole, then the usual layering of potatoes and cheese. It works.
Made me wonder what else would be good smothered deliciously beneath it all.