Monday, April 12, 2010

Potato Gratin

Now and then I like to spice up my penny-pinching, and cooking from the pantry (and fridge) - without a panicked grocery store trip - often works. There are always leftover items purchased because it was on sale or it was for a dish that wasn't made or, in the case of a recent grocery run, because the bagger put someone else's asparagus in my cart.

(I'm not a greedy, evil person. I figured it made up for the time my whole wheat flour did NOT end up in my bags.)

Cooking from the pantry and fridge might be your usual method of throwing a dinner together. Generally that's too stressful for me as a everyday practice. I find that a lack of meal planning tends to drain all the fun out of cooking, as I'm spending more time than expected trying to dream up an idea at an hour when everyone seems to need me all at the same time. Incidentally, I have a post in the works on menu planning, including a .pdf planner. A little fun coming your way :-)

A glance in my pantry reminded me of this ridiculous purchase of "baby pastina." Here I thought I was purchasing mini pasta  (hmm, why would I think that?), but imagine my surprise when I opened this and discovered over-priced and mini-packaged couscous! Oh well. I know we'll eat it.

Despite the stress factor, if I start early enough, I can usually pull off a pantry challenge. Like this one.

I had a few golden potatoes, a pint of cream from the lavender ice cream I was talked out of making ("We want chocolate chip instead!"), and a hunk of Swiss cheese. The word "gratin" was practically screaming at me.

After consulting a handful of cookbooks, I didn't see the simple recipe I sought. So here's my variation on the theme. No bechamel to make on the stovetop. No mixing of vegetables - just potatoes. Shredded Gruyere. Salt and peppered layers. A faint garlicky scent from the oven. Lovely.

Potato Gratin
Serves 4-6.

Butter, to coat baking dish
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
1 1/2 to 2 pounds golden potatoes (about 4-6, depending on size)
1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
4 to 5 ounces Gruyere (or other Swiss) cheese, shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly butter a baking dish, such as a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Rub the cut sides of the garlic clove halves over the butter and discard. Thinly slice potatoes about 1/8-inch thick (or use a mandoline). Lay potato slices flat in the baking dish, overlapping the slices, until the bottom of the dish is covered. Pour in cream to almost cover the slices, top with 1/3 of the shredded cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Repeat the potato, cream, cheese, and salt & pepper sequence to complete two more layers. Bake on a center oven rack for 50-60 minutes, depending on desired browning of the top layer. Let the gratin rest at least 5 minutes before serving.

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