Monday, March 29, 2010

Potato Gratin

This is a definitely one of my go to recipes. It's no wonder then, that I turn to this very recipe when I needed it most. You see, on Thursday it's my turn to make my monthly dinner for sk8 church. Not just any dinner, but an Easter dinner. They didn't ask me to do it, but my day (the first Thursday of every month) happens to fall 3 days before Easter this year and I just had to make them a meal to celebrate it. Who knows, for some of them it might be their only Easter meal. When you are making a meal for 60-70 or so people there are lots of variables to consider. The main dish was easy. Ham is what you eat on Easter, It's traditional. Plus it comes fully cooked and when you order honeybaked hams, like me, it's even easier since they are best served at room temperature. No prep and No oven space needed, which is awesome because then I can make something like Potato Gratin, which does need the oven.

Potato gratin might not seem like a logical first choice when trying to make it for lots of people, but I beg to differ. I would argue that it's much easier than say- mashed potatoes. For mashed potatoes I would have had to peel an incredible number of potatoes and dice them all up--In batches, like 6 or 7 batches, I might add--and boil them all and them mash them all and season them all. Did I mention I would have to do that 6 or 7 times?!?!? Then there would be the issue of keeping them warm. You can't re-heat mashers with a lot of success so it's not something that can be made ahead. Potato gratin on the other hand can.

Sure, I will still have to make it in batches, but it won't be half as much a pain. You are "supposed" to peel the potatoes when you are making a gratin, but I think it would be absolutely fine to skip this step. I own a food processor so I can slice those un-skinned potaotes razor thin in about 30 seconds flat. Then You just toss those with cream and cheese and bake. And since it re-heats like a charm I can make and bake this the day before the dinner and reheat. Now, that's what I'm talking about!!

Potato Gratin
adapted loosely from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
5 large russet potatoes
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese (1/2 pound)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Butter the inside of a 10 cup baking dish. Saute the onion in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them by hand or with a mandoline. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyere, salt and pepper. Add the sauteed onion and mix well.

Pour the potato mixtur ein the buttered baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons cream and the 1/2 cup of gruyere and sprinkle on top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes at room temperature and serve.

Serves 10
This gratin can be made days before and reheated at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

This recipe is originally called "Potato Fennel Gratin" and calls for 2 fennel bulbs to be sliced thinly and sauteed with the onions and then added to the potatoes. I have never done it that way though. I love fennel, I just have never tried it, is all. It would be delicious. If you try it let me know how it turns out!

I love this particular gratin mostly because the cheese is perfect. Gruyere is the quintessential gratin cheese. To me there is no substitute. It is so warm and gooey and nutty. Spectacular. It's also the only cheese I will put on top of my French onion soup. If you have never used it before, consider it a definite must.

Like I mentioned above, the ham is fully seasoned and cooked and spiral cut. The rolls are pre made. Once I have the potato gratin ready, all that will be left to do the day of is to assemble the spinach and strawberry salad. I feel triumphant!