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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Potato Love Encore: Easiest Scalloped Potatoes

Thanks to my post of a few days ago, I've been thinking of potatoes more than usual. I even remembered a very weird New Yorker story about a man who went to a bed and breakfast and ended up turning into a potato. I googled the keywords and nothing came up. Anyone??

Potatoes are kind of creepy, as in that remembered story. But they are so good. Almost as good as mashed potatoes are scalloped potatoes. But I have poor knife skills and am impatient, so I seldom made these. Then I found the easiest and best recipe.

Even better, some good reading came along with the recipe, which is in Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. Colwin was a novelist and short story writer. I always found her novels a bit lightweight (albeit fun), but I loved her stories, which I read in The New Yorker.

More Home Cooking
, along with the earlier Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, consists of essays/recipes that Colwin published in Gourmet.

These two books have provided me with hours of pure bliss. Here are the potatoes, presented in Colwin's distinctive voice. I am typing this from a page I clipped from the February 1992 issue of Gourmet.

Scalloped potatoes go wonderfully with roast chicken. In the old days I took great pains with these, and they never came out the way I liked them. I have since learned a trick from a now-unrecalled magazine article, and I make them in a trice. If you have a food processor, you can make them in less than that. The potatoes--say about 2 1/2 pounds--should be cut 1/8 inch thick and then plunged into cold water. Bring 2 1/2 cups milk to a boil in a large saucepan, pat the potatoes dry, and boil them in the milk until they are barely tender. Add salt to taste and then tip the whole affair--the sludgy milk and the half-cooked potatoes--into a buttered dish. Add garlic if you like it--if not, not--scatter breadcrumbs on top, and bake the potatoes in a 400 degree oven for about fifteen minutes, or until they are bubbly and brown. (You will have to soak the saucepan for quite a long while--that's boiling milk for you--but it's worth it.)

My faithful readers no doubt know that I always make even easy recipes easier. So, I just slice potatoes haphazardly with a knife, don't soak in cold water, and hence don't dry. I do add extra sharp cheddar. And I don't usually put on breadcrumbs.

Colwin presented this as part of an easy dinner for guests, featuring roast chicken and ending with Katherine Hepburn's brownies. But for potato lovers like myself, this dish plus a vegetable would more than suffice for dinner.

Of course, you could make the chicken and all, because then you would have more potatoes for you. I used to perform this trick when cooking for my family. It didn't work because both my children became potato lovers, perhaps because of the quantities of potatoes I consumed while they were in utero. When I met Mr. FS, he was indifferent to potatoes; he was a rice person. But now he has come to broaden his horizons and embrace the potato (and occasionally pig out) with the rest of us.

Colwin, by the way, died suddenly at age 48. I hope everyone has a chance to read her work.

Any great potato dishes, Dear Readers? Any great food writers?


Chance said...

Yum....another great cookbook recommendation. Keep em coming...I'm currently on a tear through Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asian by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Food anthropology, travelogue, cooking. What's not to love? Anything by Rick Bayliss for Mexican food - his mole negro is to die for, and with crisp, clear step by step, cook the sauce for two days instructions. But I have a sack of Yukon Golds calling to me, must try this recipe (and the soup one thanks).

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Potato stuffed perogies comes to mind. Potatoes, cheese, onions, and spices in a dumpling. The king of all comfort foods.

Duchesse said...

We make gratins often; Colwin's technique (parboiling in milk) is classically French. I like to change the gratin by adding grilled fennel in a thin layer sometimes, or drained San Marzano tomatoes.

Leftover gratin is great in soup, or add to an omlette.

I loved Laurie Colwin's short stories, and was sad when she died.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Chance--I've been meaning to get my hands on Hot, Sour, Salty,Sweet.

@Cubicle--I do eat frozen perogies (with onions and sour cream). They are sublime.

@Duchesse--I didn't know that was a classic French technique. It is so much easier than a bechamel.

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Frozen are okay. If you can find a friend with a Polish grandmother though...