Have I told you before how much I love potatoes? Well, if I haven’t, then…I love potatoes. Unfortunately, it’s one of those foods that many people shy away from when they are carb counting, and that’s too bad because potatoes contain loads of vitamins and minerals along with an assortment of phytochemicals such as carotenoids and polyphenols. A medium sized potato provides 27 mg of vitamin C, 620 mg of potassium, 0.2 mg of vitamin B6 and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc…Whew! And another thing… most people don’t know is that the fiber content of a potato with its skin on is equivalent to that of many whole grain breads, pastas and cereals…Who knew?
Like anything else, it is all in how you cook them. One of my favorite ways is the au gratin potato, or scalloped potatoes as we call it here in the USA. Leave it to the French, who call these dauphinois potatoes, to create over a dozen variations of this dish which may include the use of eggs, egg yolks, a light bechamel sauce, different herbs and an assortment of different types of cheese so that you can distinguish one from the other. Au gratin potatoes tend to be on the richer side, but I have provided a few modifications that you can make to keep it lighter, without sacrificing too much of the creaminess and flavor.
When I tried making scalloped potatoes for the first time years ago, I used regular baking potatoes and the result was a very tasty mush. So the first lesson is that all potatoes are not created equal…NEVER use a Yukon gold, Idaho or a russet potato, because when cooked, they have a very soft and fluffy texture that is perfect for mashed potatoes but not for scalloped potatoes. You must use a waxy potato, and that is the real secret here. No other recipe that I have ever come across will tell you this, and when you finally make it, the whole thing falls apart and you think you have made a mistake. By using the waxy potatoes, the dish will slice perfectly even if you have just taken it out of the oven. You can identify a waxy potato by the shiny skin. They come in either a white or a red skin variety, and you can use either with the same result. I have experimented with this recipe quite a few times (did I tell you how much I like potatoes?) and I believe that I have developed a delicious and creamy version of this very traditional side dish. I hope you try it and let me know what you think…
Au Gratin Potatoes (Scalloped Potatoes) (serves 4-8)
4 med-large size waxy potatoes
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 cup cream
6 Tablespoons butter
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
Pinch of nutmeg
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ onion, grated with the juice
3 cups cheese (for example, fontina, asiago, parmesan, gruyere)
First peel the potatoes and slice lengthwise on a mandolin, this is important to get paper thin potatoes that will layer perfectly in your baking dish.
Add the broth and the cream into a medium sized pot and add in all of the other ingredients except the butter and cheese. Bring to a boil and then turn off and set aside to steep all of the flavors together. In the meantime, grease your baking pan with a pan spray, oil or butter. Then begin overlapping the potatoes lengthwise until you have covered the entire bottom of the pan.
Gently salt and pepper the first layer and spread out 1 cup of cheese over the entire layer, along with a few nobs of butter. In all, you will create 3 layers, so make sure to have enough butter and cheese for 3 layers. If you want to add some to the top, you can save a little extra for that. Repeat with the second layer, and then again with the third, but do not put the cheese on top of the final layer yet. Once you have everything completed, gently pour the liquid through a fine mesh sieve to catch all of the flavorful remnants we used to poach in the liquid. You can pour this into another container or directly onto the potatoes.
Cover this with a greased piece of foil, so that the top does not stick to the foil as it is baking. Depending on the thickness of your layers, this may take up to 1 1/2 hours to cook at 350°F. At the 1 hour mark, uncover the potatoes and use a knife to slide through to see if it meets with any resistance. By this time, all of the liquid will have boiled off and the potatoes are perfectly tender. At this point, add the remaining cheese (if you like to have cheese on top) and continue to bake uncovered for another 30 minutes until golden brown on top. It is best to let it rest for about 5 minutes to let the potato layers come before slicing. As the melted cheese throughout the dish cools, it helps cement the layers together.
NOTES: To make this richer, you can use 2 cups of half and half or whatever combination of milk and cream you prefer instead of the broth/cream that I used. Using the broth as a substitution cuts back on some of the calories but tastes equally delicious. You can use any type of cheese or combination of cheese that you prefer. I used a rich and creamy fontina and grated parmesan. If you do not have broth on hand, you can use one small boullion cube, but you may have to cut back on the salt.