Gratin Dauphinois – Creamy and Comforting Roasted Potatoes

potatoes daphaunoise

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.

naked potatoes

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.

potatoes simmering

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.

in the dish

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.

potatoes again

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.

Gratin Dauphinois
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.

Extravagant Stuffed Dates

cooked dates

So, as part of changing my eating habits, I’ve cut out a lot of refined sugar.  I have a huge – like, Godzilla huge – sweet tooth, so it’s a challenge.  However, my health and general feelings of well-being are greatly improved without all that sugar.

Still, I have had to find ways to cope with the sometimes overwhelming sugar cravings!

One way I do that is by eating dates – medjool dates, to be exact.  I live in an area that has a sizable Arab population, and dates fit prominently in their food culture, so they’re easy to find.  You can even find fresh dates at certain times of the year, usually around Ramadan.  I have a source for incredible medjool dates, just a few blocks from my house.  They are huge, sweet, and have a fantastic caramel-like texture, sort of chewy (especially if you put them in the refrigerator for a little while).  I just love them.  And they satisfy my sweet tooth.

These mondo dates are excellent for stuffing.  It’s easy to extract the pit, and the hollow inside holds a good portion of whatever you want to put in it.  I like to use a fresh cheese – either chevre or a fresh cow’s milk cheese – but bleu cheese could also be delicious.

In addition to stuffing the dates, I like to wrap them in prosciutto di parma.  Natural bacon would also be good.  Then I heat them up.  Simply fantastic – sweet, salty, and smoky all at the same time.  I must thank my friend Laura for teaching me how to prepare these.

They’re also rather filling, I find.  They’d be great paired up with a simple green salad and glass of red wine.

stuffed date collage

Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Dates

If you can find proscuitto that is made from free range pigs, and not cured with nitrites but only with sea salt (as is necessary for some PDO/Protected Designation of Origin hams), that would be ideal.  You could also wrap the dates in natural bacon as well.  If you use bacon, only use half slices, and also use a well-soaked toothpick to hold it all together.

12 medjool dates
4 oz chevre or other fresh cheese
12 slices of prosciutto

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Take your dates and pit them by slicing into the date lengthwise, then spreading open the date and removing the pit.  They will look sort of butterflied at this point.

Stuff the dates with 1/2 tsp or so of cheese.  Make sure the cheese is all the way in the cavity of the date.  Close the halves of the date (some of the cheese may peek out a bit).

Roll up each date in a slice of prosciutto.  Set the dates in a baking pan – one with edges, so that any fat won’t spill out and into your oven – and bake them until the meat crisps, about 20 minutes.

Serves 6 an appetizer, 2 as a meal.

Making Mascarpone Cheese

mascarpone

This week I’m working on adapting a favorite carrot cake recipe to accommodate soaking the flour ahead of time. Soaking the flour will break down its phytic acid, making it more easily digestible. And while I was able to make other adjustments pretty easily, one sticking point was what to put on top of the cake.  The recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting, which is a perfect thing to put on a carrot cake, but it seems a shame to use a highly processed product like commercial cream cheese on top of this wonderfully earthy cake.   Fortunately, I was able to come up with an excellent solution: mascarpone cheese.

So, a little while ago, my friend Judith had a recipe of hers featured in one of the top slots on Foodbuzz.  Nearby was another featured recipe, this one for homemade mascarpone cheese.  I took a look at the recipe, and realized that I had found my solution right there!  Mascarpone is a little bit softer and creamier than cream cheese, but for my purposes, it’s perfect.

Making mascarpone at home takes a just little bit of time, and the process is pretty straightforward.  The resulting product is fresh, creamy, and delicious.  And you know exactly what you’re getting because you made it.

March 2010