Cool weather continues to reign here in NYC, even though it’s almost mid-April. It’s also feels kind of damp to me, which makes it seem even chillier. Some of you might laugh when I say that temperatures in the low-60s make for chilly times, but I (like to joke that I) have thin California blood and have always found that this kind of weather produces in me an intense longing for 80-degree days.
However, weather like this is perfect for roasted root vegetables – they are so comforting, plus it’s not hot enough yet to eschew your oven. Sweet potatoes with rosemary and garlic are nice; butternut squash with thyme is also delicious; carrots, onions, and parsnips underneath a roasting chicken is truly fantastic. However, what’s really calling me these days is gratin dauphiois – a simple dish of roasted potatoes in milk.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no cheese in this dish (though I’ve seen some recipes that ask for it). You wouldn’t know it by just looking at it – to me, it really looks like there must be cheese in there. What else would produce such a glorious and tasty crust? Well, it’s the starch in the potatoes that encourage this, actually. Whoever figured this out was brilliant.
The potatoes come out perfectly cooked – warm and creamy and smooth. The milk/half-and-half/cream thickens from the starch. The garlic and nutmeg add a nice hint of flavor, too. Be sure to use a good quality milk/half-and-half/cream – preferably from grass-fed cows, which provides so much more nutrition, not to mention superior taste. Organic potatoes are preferred because of the pesticide residue that can remain with conventionally grown potatoes; Yukon Golds would be nice.
As an aside, whenever I read the name of this dish, I think of the piece by the great French theorist and composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, La Dauphine. Of course, gratin dauphinois is named after Dauphiné, a former province in southeastern France, where the dish is a specialty of that region. In any case, La Dauphine is the first piece of Rameau’s that I ever played, and it is the only solo harpsichord piece he wrote after spending his time writing operas. It was written in the style of an improvisation, to honor the marriage between Marie-Josèphe of Saxony and Louis XV.
Clotilde’s recipe from Chocolate & Zucchini
2 pounds potatoes, a mix of waxy and baking potatoes (if you prefer to use only one type, pick waxy potatoes, not too firm), preferably organic
2 cups half-and-half or whole milk (absolutely not skim milk), preferably grass-fed
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
freshly grated nutmeg
1 clove garlic, sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives (optional)
1/4 cup heavy cream, preferably grass-fed
Peel the potatoes, rinse them briefly, and slice them thinly (about 1/10th of an inch) and evenly. Do not rinse after slicing, or you will lose all that precious starch.
Combine the sliced potatoes, milk, salt and a good grating of nutmeg in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, and keep simmering for 8 minutes, stirring the potatoes and scraping the bottom of the pan regularly to prevent sticking/scorching. The milk will gradually thicken to a creamy consistency.
While the potatoes are simmering, preheat the oven to 430F and rub the bottom and sides of a medium earthenware or glass baking dish with the cut sides of the garlic clove.
Transfer half of the potatoes into the baking dish, sprinkle with the chives if using, and drizzle with half of the cream. Add the rest of the potatoes, pour the cooking milk over them, and drizzle with the remaining cream.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until bubbly on the edges and nicely browned at the top. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Serves 6 as a side dish.
This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.