A gratin is a terrible thing to waste

You guys, I made this for my family for Thanksgiving. And I didn’t even have time to snap a photo of it.

Pheasants, my family loves Thanksgiving. Who wouldn’t? Family gathered, happiness at the holiday season, and the chilly, pre-Christmas nip in the air that brings people together. Also, who could forget the food? Everyone in our family has a dish that they traditionally bring to the literal and figurative table.

My aunt J brings her pineapple-roasted ham, which is a big favorite with most everyone but me (I don’t eat pork.) My GUE (greatest uncle ever!) brings his take on the classic green bean casserole: green beans, mixed into a creamy, mushroom-y base, sprinkled throughout with garlic and bacon. My dad, bless his soul, brings his roast oyster stuffing. You know, if I ever had a last meal, I would definitely request this. It’s smoky, it’s savory, smooth, crunchy, and just delicious. Dad also usually makes the turkey, because he’s a bird-roaster extraordinaire.

As for me?  I’m usually asked to bring a pecan pie. Nothing more. Years back, my GUE was the pecan pie-bringer, because his were always spot-on: crunchy, sweet, and just delightful. One year, however, I challenged him to a pecan pie-making contest, with the winner bringing the pie the next year. I won, but sometimes, now, I wonder if the contest was rigged…

Anyway, this year, being my first year on my own (as an…adult?) I want to bring something killer. Something delicious, heart-poundingly tasty that will make everyone who takes a bite say, “Mmmm….oh yeah,” from sheer happiness. And I know of only one recipe in the entirety of my autumnal retinue that deserves such high honors.

Imagine, pheasants, a gratin: what is it made of? It can be onions, leeks, celery, or any root vegetable you can imagine. But think of this: sweet onions and leeks, layered together with thinly-sliced potatoes and sharp, aromatic onions, layered in a thick, creamy, cling-to-everything sauce. Sage, Pecorino, Parmesan and garlic perfume the whole of it, turning the potatoes into a fragrant, herb-scented dish that you just want to inhale. It makes your entire home smell like fresh cooking and beautiful days in the French countryside.

I made this dish (all for myself…) a month back. It was better than anything I could ever imagine: the cream melded with potato, onion and leek to exalt and praise one another to the fullest extent. It was beautiful. It was amazing. It was heavenly. I guarantee, you will find no other recipe like this. It’s as close to perfect, I think, as a recipe can get.

Make sure that your ingredients are good ones. Regular store-bought rubbed sage will work, but don’t skimp on the cheeses: you want something aged at least a year, although two is better.

Serve it up with grilled or roasted meat, placing the freshly-sliced bits on top so that their flavor and juices can trickle down and beautify the dish further, if that’s possible.

A Very Pleasant Potato, Onion and Sage Gratin

1 russet potato, cleaned

1 cup cleaned, sliced leek

1/2 a medium yellow onion

1/2 a sharp, white onion

1 block of Pecorino

1 block of Parmesan

1/2 c heavy cream

3 tbsp butter

3 garlic cloves

2 tbsp or more rubbed sage

pepper to taste

Using either a mandolin set to its thinnest setting or a sharp knife, slice your onions and leeks as thinly as possibly. Mince the garlic.

Prepare a large bowl with cold, salted water. A large mixing bowl will do. Slice your potato, unpeeled, very thinly with a sharp knife. You want them as thin as you possibly can. Quickly transfer the potato slices into the water to keep them from browning.

Once they’ve all been sliced, line an 8×8 inch pan in foil and spray with Pam; put down a spoonful or two of cream. Sprinkle a little sage over it, and then set down a layer of onion and leek. Set a single layer of potatoes over that, arranging them so they overlap slightly on all edges which touch other potatoes. You want them to be snug, with nary a hole showing through. Spoon on more cream, sprinkle some pepper, sage, and garlic over it all. Using a microplane, grate cheese enough to cover sparsely the cream. Place nine small dots of butter across the whole thing, spacing them evenly. Start again with a thin layer of leek and onion, followed by potatoes, then more cream and spices, followed by cheese.

For your last layer, you want potato on top. Make sure to carefully arrange the slices so that they’re pretty, overlapping, and look good. Spoon the last of the cream over it, sprinkle some sage and garlic, and dot it again with small bits of butter. Grate some cheese over, covering it evenly and carefully. Cover the pan with tin foil.

In an oven preheated to 400°F (204°C) place the dish. Bake for 35 minutes. Halfway through this, take the gratin out, uncover it, and tip the dish slightly to the side. Spoon cream across it, making sure to cover the whole of it with a new layer, then recover it with foil and place it back in the oven.

After the timer goes off, take the foil off, and test the potatoes with a knife or fork. If they give easily and seem done, replace the gratin. If not, bake, covered, for another 10 minutes. Once they’re soft, return the uncovered gratin to the oven. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until the cream is mostly soaked up, the top is golden, and the entire thing smells like heaven. If you like your gratin more brown on top, crank the broiler, and do not leave the oven until they’re as browned as you like them. No one likes a burnt gratin.

Once it’s browned and cooked, take the gratin from the oven. Let it cool for about seven to ten minutes, then dig in. This recipe supposedly feeds four people…but if it only feeds two…who are we to judge? It’s delicious!

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Filed under Autumn, Seasonal

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