I've made gratins before, mostly with success, but with some mishaps, including a few that turned out too liquidy or not cooked all the way through. Over the weekend, I combed through my recipes and figured doing a test run might not be a bad idea.
When looking for a simple, perfect treatment for vegetables, turning to Alice Waters seems natural. Last year, the husband gave me her cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. For some reason, I haven't cooked a lot from it--I'm not sure why.
I liked the sound of her potato gratin, which called for the following short list of ingredients: Yukon gold potatoes, milk, butter, salt and pepper. You can't get much simpler than that.
She suggested some ways to jazz it up a little, which I did. I rubbed the baking pan with a clove of garlic, and added thyme and grated parmesan between the layers.
Now, about the potatoes.
Four years ago, we received a mandoline as a wedding gift. Since May of 2005, this lovely and thoughtful gift has sat in its little box and stared at me, threatening to slice my fingers to shreds. It took until last weekend for me to risk it.
What's my problem? you ask. I'm a scaredy
In my defense, shortly after we got married, I sustained a traumatic kitchen injury resulting in a trip to urgent care, and had to bumble around with a cumbersome bandage over my left hand for a few weeks. It took me a year to use that Globe knife again (also a wedding gift), which had proved to be very sharp indeed. Trying out another tool that came with all kinds of warning labels did not seem appealing.
Anyhow, I finally braved the mandoline, and what do you know, if you use the safety guard and go slow, it's really not that terrifying. It sliced the potatoes into delicate, thin slices, which I spread out in ruffly layers in my beloved Emile Henry baking pan.
The gratin turned out perfectly golden, with crispy edges, smelling of woodsy thyme and parmesan.
Now, to figure out dessert.
Alice Waters's Potato Gratin
adapted from The Art of Simple Food
4 large Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs), sliced about 1/16"
1 cup of milk (I used whole)
3 T. butter, cut into pieces, plus a little more for greasing the pan
1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
fresh thyme, parmesan, salt and pepper, all to your taste
Preheat the oven to 350.
Rub a 9x12 baking pan with the garlic, then grease with butter.
Spread one layer of potatoes over the bottom, sprinkle salt, pepper, thyme, and parmesan over, and repeat. Do not exceed three layers. Pour the milk over the top, so that the milk comes to the bottom of the top layer of potatoes. Add more if necessary. Dot with butter and sprinkle with more parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes. At this point, press down on the gratin with a spatula to make sure the milk is reaching all the potatoes. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until browned and bubbling. If you'd like (I did), add a little extra parmesan to the last 15 minutes of baking. Let sit for 5-10 minutes after removing from the oven.