Yes, every post in January will be about food and cooking.
“Mom,” my daughter said, one night a few weeks ago. “My friend made this dish, and it was really good, and I think you’ve made it before, and I didn’t think I liked it then but now I do.”
What was this magic dish, you wonder?
Potatoes au gratin.
And she was right to remember that I had made it a couple of months earlier, one night when I had to figure out dinner from what I had on hand, because I didn’t want to go to the grocery. (This should be a familiar theme here.)
Only the night I made them the first time, when she wasn’t sure she liked them, I didn’t really have enough cream to get the job done properly, and I used a mix of potatoes which cooked at different rates, so the overall effect was OK — good, even — but not great.
So on a cold, snowy Sunday night, getting ready for the last semester of high school to begin, I doubled down and made a proper version (more on that, later) and served a proper, if casual, Sunday night family dinner.
There are far fewer of these Sunday dinners ahead than behind, I know, and the increasing rarity of them tugs on root of nostalgia that somehow always surprises me. This particular dinner carted me back to my growing up dinner table and my mother’s scalloped potatoes (just cream, no cheese), served in the aqua Dansk casserole dish that now hangs, unused, on the pot rack in my kitchen.
Scalloped potatoes was one of my mother’s best dishes, at least in my memory. It was also one of the few potato preparations she liked, probably because she liked cream more than potatoes.
The difference between scalloped and au gratin? Cheese. My mother, who adored cheese, did not use it in her potatoes. Potatoes. Cream. That was it. No gilded lilies for her.
And what she might say about all this, were she still here, might start with: “Use real cream, use the good dishes, and never miss a chance to sit together at the table for dinner.”
Betty’s Scalloped Potatoes
3-4 russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced*
Heavy cream (1 pint or more, depending on the size/shape of the skillet)
Butter (1-2 Tbsp.)
Scallions and/or fresh parsley, finely chopped
*I use a knife to slice the potatoes because I enjoy that, but a mandoline is faster. Either way, the “right” thickness is about 1/8th inch
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Layer the potatoes in a skillet (I use enameled cast iron, but any ovenproof skillet or burner-safe casserole dish will work), seasoning in between layers. The layers don’t have to be pretty.
Pour cream over potatoes until they are about 3/4 covered, maybe a little more, but not all the way to the top.
Season the top with salt and pepper.
Cook on the stovetop, on medium high heat, until the cream boils. Turn heat down to simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.
Remove from heat, dot the top with butter, and place in hot oven. Immediately turn heat down to 325 and cook 15-20 minutes until potatoes are very tender.
Scatter chopped onions/parsley on top and serve.
You will not miss the cheese, I promise.
My mother would have served these simple potatoes with a green leaf lettuce salad (French vinaigrette) and a glass of Chablis, because my mother was smart like that.