getting fat and fancy

Back in 2007, I named my new car Ella after my favorite singer. She’s a musical car, and even honks in C major. I love Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? to which you might consider listening tomorrow. Here is a sweet performance with Nat King Cole with an equally important message about holiday foods:

In my twenty years of playing piano, I have never had such luck as Mr. Cole in taking my finger off the keys with such frequency—and keep the music playing…

The following recipe is unusually rich compared to the kinds of meals I advocate and typically cook. But it is remarkably sophisicated, like Miss Ella’s voice, and sometimes heavy cream it’s all right with me.

I saw Jacques Pepin makes this potato gratin on PBS several years ago, and it looked too easy, too French to not replicate in my own kitchen. My Polish-raised inner-child cannot pass up creamy potatoes buried in golden cheese.

It’s important the potatoes are even and thinly sliced. A cheap $6 mandolin makes the preparation for this gratin a breeze.

A gratin is the brown crust on foods prepared au gratin. The brown is often from cheese, butter, or in the best case: both. Gratin originates from the French word grater, which is why you’ll find yourself grating gorgeous white cheese for gratin dishes. Now I only made it to French 3 in high school, but I’m pretty sure you impress your guests by pronouncing this gra-tan daf-nee-wahr with your nose raised ever so slightly.

Gratin Dauphinois

from the brilliant Jacques Pepin

serves 8, 30 minutes prep  

2  1/2 lbs boiling potatoes, such as Yukon Gold

3  1/2 cups half-and-half

2 large garlic cloves, minced (remember, you can do this on your microplane)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 cup coarsely grated Gruyère

Special equipment: a mandoline or other adjustable-blade slicer

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Generously butter a 2 1/2- to 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish.

Peel potatoes. Cut crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer and transfer to a 4-quart heavy saucepan. Add half-and-half, garlic, salt, and pepper and bring just to a boil over moderate heat.

Pour potato mixture into buttered dish, distributing potatoes evenly. Sprinkle nutmeg and cheese evenly over top. Bake until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Jacques’ note: The gratin can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cool completely, then refrigerate, covered. Bring to room temperature before reheating, covered, in a 350°F oven.

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? I’m making a potato and leek gratin with brie—naughty as can be—and sharing it with great friends.

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2 Comments

Filed under dinners

2 responses to “getting fat and fancy

  1. Kay

    YUMMM! I’ll be making this!!!!Looks and sounds wonderful.

  2. It is divine, and far simpler in preparation than Ta’s recipe. HOWEVER, Ta’s version of potato au gratin can never, ever be beat. And dicing the potato adds a different experience entirely. I grew up calling them “a rotten potatoes” with the utmost affection.

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