“The star is crooked,” said my little guy. With all the holiday wonder I was trying to create, this is what he focused on? The star on the tree, slightly leaning to the left? School was out and we were getting the house finished for the holiday. I turned to one of my reliable potato dishes. It is straightforward and always satisfying. This potato dish was featured in an America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country Cookbook, released in September, 2011.
The cookbook called for a recipe that was a part of a tradition, for your family, and an essay about it. I wrote about how my older boy began to be interested in gardening and cooking. He had seen me snipping herbs in the garden to take into the kitchen. One day he asked, “How do you know what herb tastes good with food?”
This dish uses Idaho potatoes cut into slices. Vidalia onions are sliced as well. In a pan, with some olive oil and butter, onions are slowly caramelized. There is a sweetness to the Vidalia onion. Combined, with the method of caramelizing, these onions add a depth of flavor to this potato gratin.
I played with several cheeses for this dish – finally settling on Gruyère. The sharpness of the nutty, Gruyère cheese is a perfect foil to the caramelized onions. And then, the bechamel sauce. Is there anything that doesn’t taste good with a bechamel? The potatoes in this dish are parboiled, as they will finish in the casserole.
The result makes for a gratin, with moist potato slices, layered with a creamy, cheesy mixture. Caramelized onions add a layer of a slight crunch in almost every other bite. The Gruyère and bechamel, are a smooth combination of cheesy flavor, wrapped around the potatoes. The fresh herbs lend a punctuation of vibrancy. The potato gratin can be a simple dinner with a tossed salad. It can also stand as a side on a holiday table.
If I am making this in the fall, I may add a bit of thyme and sage, for an earthy flavor. For a Christmas dinner, like this past week, I opted for a generous helping of thyme. Some thyme baked in the casserole dish. Some reserved for garnish. In the spring, for an Easter dinner, I may do a hint of thyme, and a whole lot of fresh chives. The chives are one of the first herbs to return in spring. Adapt the dish to your occasion and season.
Check out the link, and the recipe, in the December 25, 2011, New York Daily News. See below, to read about my contribution to the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!