Sunday, December 30, 2007


We have some beautiful lamb from friends who make beautiful cheese. We have chops and shoulder. The chops are gone, but we roast the shoulder, just a little roast perfect for two or four people, with dried figs and apricots, fresh goat cheese, and a little hot pepper. On a cold winter day during the holidays, the kind where the damp gets deep into your bones, we hole up infront of the woodstove with the lamb slow roasting in the little oven above the fire and we think about what to serve alongside.

Whenever I wonder what to cook, I seem to always gravitate to Julia Child and that old classic volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Our two volume set is old, bought at a used bookstore years ago, one with a dust cover sprinkled with a red and blue fleur-de-lis pattern, the other without, the pages yellowed and well-used with notes in someone else’s hand. It is a potatoes-kind-of-evening, and we have some gruyere in the refrigerator. Gratin Dauphinois, a potato dish from the Rhonish Alps looks just the thing. In the Queen’s English, potatoes au gratin.

Gratin are dishes that are French in origin and usually mean a baked casserole covered in Bechamel, or Mornay sauce with bread crumbs, cheese, butter, and the like. I’ve heard there is an Irish recipe that also exists and is called Lucky Charms Potatoes, and apparently potatoes au gratin are as common in Sweden as they are in France.

Gratin is a cooking technique rather than just something one does to potatoes taken from the French gratter, or “to scrape”, meaning the scrapings of bread and cheese involved. Gratin is also used to mean the “upper crust” of Parisian society. You can make a gratin out of just about anything: leeks, celeriac, eggplant, (but stop thinking about that old shoe….). In the US, we’ve come to call a gratin of potatoes scalloped pototoes because of the scallop pattern in which you arrange them. Note: scallop was used to refer to potatoes long before the bi-valve of the same name.

So, a gratin of potatoes it will be to serve with lamb. We’ll also braise some brussel sprouts with chestnuts and season them with nutmeg. I turn to Julia, as I often do in times of need, and as always, she does not disappoint.

Gratin Dauphinois (Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
For Two

1 medium potato
A small fireproof baking dish
½ clove of unpeeled garlic
2 Tb butter
2 healthy pinch of salt and pepper
1/3 cup of Gruyere (Tarentaise by Thistle Hill Farm is superb made here in Vermont)
¼ cup boiling milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel the potato and slice it about an1/8 of inch thick. Place in a bowl of ice cold water, then drain and pat dry when ready to use. (This keeps your potatoes from turning black.) Rub the baking dish with the garlic, then used the garlic for something else (I like to toss it in with the gratin myself). Smear the inside of the dish with a thin film of the butter. Spread half of the drained and dried potatoes in the bottom of the dish, following that scallop pattern. Divide over the potatoes half the salt and pepper, cheese, and dotted butter. Arrange the remaining pieces of potato over the first layer, and season them again with salt and pepper and cover with the rest of the cheese and butter. Pour over the boiling milk. Set the baking dish in the preheated oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes or tender, the milk has been absorbed, and the top is nicely browned. Serve it forth.

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