February 17, 2007

I get by with a little help from my friends....

When I lived in Paris I did without many kitchen gadgets. I was lucky to have one glass measuring cup with ounces included on the side. I bought a whisk and a heat safe blue spatula that have become essential to me in the kitchen. Other than that, I survived with my own elbow grease and willingness to fling spices around with great approximation.

In many ways, it was liberating and educational. After all, many cooks before me had survived sans KitchenAid. I whipped cream by hand, I chopped everything by hand, and I thinly sliced potatoes for mes tartiflettes, proving that I really could do most cooking with a pot, some heat and a spoon. It gave me confidence about my skills to create.

It also gave me gratitude when I returned. It’s a lot of work to always do everything by hand, which is why I feel there is room for balance in the kitchen. Whipping up a bowl of brownies is easier done by hand than in the mixer and there’s less to clean when you’re done. Although, pesto from the food processor is such a speedy enterprise, why do it by hand? Knowing when to use the old fashioned method is just as important as knowing how to do it. I admit it is nice having options.

So, when I received a mandolin for Christmas this year, I immediately thought of the multitude of potato gratins I could make, and then I thought it looked awfully complicated and sort of like I could lose a finger if I tried to figure it out. I placed it in a drawer in my kitchen and forgot about it until last week, where I brought it out and used it not once, but twice in one meal.

I can proudly say that after the initial 30 seconds of awkwardness, I thinly sliced 5 potatoes in about 3 minutes. I was shocked. No wonder this is considered essential to restaurant chefs! The only downside is that it’s now much easier to make those gratins and that’s not so good for my diet.

But, the good news is that it really is easy and fun to use and I feel my horizon has broadened quite a bit. Now I will be a lot more motivated to make things I’ve shirked off in the past. Cabbage can be easily shredded for coleslaw and vegetables easily julienned. Onions can be sliced paper thin for salads. For those interested, my mandolin is this one. It’s mostly made of plastic so it’s dishwasher safe and it’s very inexpensive. I was actually surprised that it worked so well.

This potato gratin is my version of a Gratin Dauphinois, the prince of scalloped potatoes. The French usually heat the cream, garlic and herbs on the stove before combining it with the potatoes and the results are divine. Use whatever herbs and cheese you like. Here I’ve given a traditional version, although I adore white cheddar and rosemary. Stay tuned for the other side dish I made with the help of my mandolin!

Cheesy Potato Gratin Dauphinois

5 medium yellow potatoes
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, smashed
fresh thyme and/or rosemary
Pepper (white pepper, if you have it)
Grated nutmeg
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 cup grated gruyere cheese

1. Wash the potatoes and peel them. Slice them thinly, about ¼ inch thick, with your knife or a mandolin. Thinly slice the onion, as well.

2. In a saucepan, bring the cream, garlic cloves, pinch of nutmeg, about 3 sprigs of fresh thyme and, optionally, 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, ½ tsp salt and some pepper to a simmer over medium heat. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook 5-10 minutes. Remove the herbs and garlic clove and set aside.

3. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8x8 baking dish or small gratin dish. Layer ½ the potatoes on the bottom. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and onion slices. Add ½ the grated cheese over the potatoes. Pour some of the cream over this layer. Place the remaining potatoes in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the rest of the cream mixture over the potatoes and top with the rest of the cheese.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, maybe 75 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.


Helene said...

I am officially homesick. but in a good way!
Beautiful recipe. I have a mandoline similar to yours but I admit I never take it out. Come to think of it, I don't know where it is since we moved!

Megan said...

Helene - I know how it goes - both with missing France and misplacing things! It will probably be a tool that's nice to have when the time comes, but it's certainly not essential.

Betty C. said...

Oh, how I love gratins of any kind. I have managed to acquire a lot of kitchen equipment here in France, however I have always had a small kitchen. It's kind of a fun challenge. I'm glad you're still practicing cuisine française