Thanksgiving side dish: Potatoes au gratin

Topped with layer of cheese that browns and crisps up while baking, this classic potatoes au gratin recipe is French comfort food at its best.

Garden of Eating
Whether it's Thanksgiving dinner, or a cold weeknight at home, these potatoes au gratin will warm your heart and stomach.

Potatoes au gratin is one of those dishes that makes me feel sad for people who either can't or won't eat dairy because they're missing out on something so simple, so delicious, and so comforting. This is the kind of food that makes me think I must've been a French peasant in a past life. A very fat, French peasant.

I went through my massive, ever-growing recipe file this weekend and I kept coming back to was this simple recipe for potato gratin – I really wanted to eat it for dinner. The temperature was dropping rapidly outside, I was tired from many hours of raking leaves while trying to keep up enough small talk to convince my 4-year-old that I was really paying attention to him, and it was going to be dark in about half an hour (you know, at 4:30 p.m. Sigh).

One quick shopping trip later, I had four large Russets and a carton of heavy cream and was ready to rumble. Another quick trip out to the nearly dark hoop house yielded a handful of thyme, oregano and parsley (though I completely forgot to sprinkle the oregano and parsley over top of this before serving, memory loss being yet another side effect of parenting).

I busted out the big mandoline for this job as I did not feel like wielding my smaller, handheld one for quite so long (even though it is by far my favorite.) I rubbed my baking dish with garlic, greased it and set it aside. Then I bathed the sliced potatoes in salted heavy cream mixed with some ground white pepper. Next came the layering, overlapping slightly and turning each new layer perpendicular to the last. 

I topped it with a positive blizzard of freshly grated Parmesan and into the oven it went for an hour or so. It emerged smelling amazing and looking even better with that beautiful browned, crispy crust that is what makes a gratin a gratin. The baking dish had a pleasing weight in my hands. I knew we would be well-fed.

I had to cut myself off after three helpings. Hope you enjoy it, too. 

Potatoes au gratin
Serves 6

4 large Russet potatoes, peeled

1-1/2 cups organic heavy cream 

1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (if you have it)

1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half

Butter to grease the gratin dish

Several branches of fresh thyme, washed

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Using a mandoline (or very sharp knife), slice the potatoes thinly. Stir the salt and white pepper into the heavy cream and then submerge the potato slices and turn to ensure that they're all coated well.

3. Lay the sliced potatoes in a single layer, overlapping the slices slightly. Turn the next row so that the slices lie perpendicular to the previous row. Continue until you've used them all up. Top with the grated Parmesan and bake for roughly 1 hour, until the top is browned and crisped. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.

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