A dish from my childhood that brings back all kinds of happy memories and reminds me of the comfort and warmth of home. My mother would prepare the gratin in a large oval dish and, ever since, I’ve always made mine in a large oval dish as well – but a red one. I have an awful lot of trouble understanding why people persist in preparing their gratin in a rectangular dish and, even worse, one that’s blue.
- About 10 medium-sized, firm-fleshed, waxy potatoes (don’t use floury ones), total weight about 1.5kg (3 lb 5 oz), peeled
- Salt and pepper
- 450ml (2 cups) whole milk
- 450ml (2 cups) double (heavy) cream
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 40g (about ⅓ cup) grated cheese, e.g. Parmesan, Cheddar, Comté (strictly speaking, the cheese is optional… But is it really?)
1Cut the potatoes into 5mm (¼ in) thick slices. Don’t wash them as it’s their starch that is going to thicken the sauce. Season the slices with salt and pepper.
2Put the potatoes in a saucepan, add the milk, cream and bay leaf and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Lift out the potatoes with a slotted spoon into a bowl and set them aside. Season the milk and cream with the nutmeg and, if necessary, salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf.
3Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/350ºF/gas mark 4. Layer the potato slices and cream mixture alternately in a greased ovenproof dish, seasoning lightly between the layers.
4Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a skewer or the tip of a knife. Take the dish out of the oven and switch on the grill (broiler). Sprinkle over the grated cheese and grill until the top is golden and crusty.
Replace the cream with coconut cream and the milk with almond milk, plus 1 teaspoon of cornflour cornstarch – but follow pretty much the same steps – and you will get a decent dairy-free alternative that’s not just fine for vegans but is also lighter. There are plenty of vegan cheeses to choose from for the crispy topping.
IMAGE © DAN JONES
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