Give Me Five: Gratin dauphinois

It’s time to celebrate the mighty potato

The potato slices need to be as thin as possible. A food processor is ideal

The potato slices need to be as thin as possible. A food processor is ideal

 

I was dismayed recently when my two little boys couldn’t identify a potato. It’s their party trick to rattle off words such as pomegranate, avocado and quinoa. I’ve always found it funny to hear a two-year-old demanding exotic fruits and vegetables. Recently, however, I was peeling potatoes and both toddlers asked if I was making apple tart.

Alarm bells rang. If my father, the son of a potato farmer, finds out, there will be tears, I thought. So it has been Operation Get-to-Know-Spuds here for the past few weeks.

As small babies they were both fed mashed potatoes regularly, but, as I try to have all of us eating the same food now, they have got used to different root vegetables. After years of being aware of the glycemic value of certain starches, and favouring the sweet potato and more slow-burning carbohydrates, I’m now throwing caution to the wind and embracing the potato. All in the name of good parenting, of course.

Chips and potato wedges were a big hit. They have had these before, but sometimes there were wedges of turnip and sweet potato among the chips, and they were cooked in coconut oil. So cruel, I know.

Next on my list was the perfect gratin: one of my own all-time favourite comfort foods. What’s not to love about wafers of potato slow-cooked in a bath of garlic-scented cream? I like to top my gratin with some nutty Gruyère or Comté. Irish-made Coolea is also perfect. It forms a crunchy cheesy layer on top and can be scattered among the layers too, if desired.

In the past I have added layers of smoked salmon between the potatoes, or crispy bacon lardons. You could also add some onions and anchovies to make a Swedish gratin, Jannson’s Temptation.

A good gratin should be the main event, ideally eaten with green vegetables to balance all that cream. I like to have a big green salad or steamed broccolini.

This dish is fantastic as a side with lamb chops or a Sunday roast beef, but it is incredibly rich.

There is nothing less appetising than undercooked thick slices of potato in a gratin. The slices need to be as thin as possible. A food processor is ideal, as it makes short work of this time- consuming job. I have a handy mandoline that I use when the thought of washing the food processor is too much. Mandolines look like hand-held graters, but they have one very sharp blade for slicing. They usually cost less than €20 for a good-quality one and are a fantastic tool. My one word of warning would be to use the finger guard that comes with them. When slicing at speed, and sometimes distracted, accidents can happen.

The traditional gratin dauphinois really does need to be made with cream, or at least a mixture of cream and milk.

There is a lovely alternative, however: boulangère potatoes. Add some sliced onion and herbs, such as thyme or sage, to the potatoes and cook in stock instead of cream. It’s less rich and perfect for a Sunday roast. Meanwhile, I’ll carry on creating more potato dishes, amazing my children with this root vegetable’s versatility, and will continue to champion the mighty potato next week.

 

 

GRATIN DAUPHINOIS: SERVES 6

 

The five ingredients

  • 1 kg potatoes (Maris Piper or Desiree)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 450ml cream
  • 100g Gruyère, or similar, grated
  • A green salad or vegetable, to serve

 

From the pantry

  • 100g butter
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Ideally use a mandoline or food processor. Place the potato slices in a bowl of cold water to rinse away the starch. Drain well. Pat them dry in a tea towel or give them a whirl in a salad spinner.

Rub some butter around the edges of a large oven-proof dish. Place the remaining butter and cream in a large pan. Bring just to the boil. Add the crushed garlic cloves and potato slices to the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for eight minutes.

Transfer the potato and cream mixture to the buttered dish. Scatter the grated cheese over the top, along with a little extra seasoning. Bake for 1½ hours until the potatoes are tender and the cream is bubbling up the sides. Serve hot with the vegetables or salad.

 

Every Thursday we’ll tweet the five ingredients from @lillyhiggins and @irishtimeslife so you can have them ready for Friday. Email givemefive@irishtimes.com with your suggestions for recipes.

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