When I think of potatoes au gratin, I think of the holidays. I also, as many of you might too, think of France.
Back in 2003, when I was a freshman in college, my parents and I took a trip to Paris for the holidays. I remember looking forward to reliving the smells of my childhood—the patisserie’s buche de noel, the confiserie’s pâtes des fruits, and the boucherie’s poulet roti in every window—from back when we lived in the 6th Arrondissement. But once I arrived, the highlight of the trip quickly became a holiday meal, one cooked by Ina.
As we learned a few year’s ago, Ina’s perfect holiday dinner now includes truffle butter tagliarelle and roast chicken, but back in 2003, it involved rack of lamb and potato-fennel gratin. She let me come over early and help her make the meal, and I got to think to myself firsthand, “how easy is that?” even though I actually feared I’d take off my finger using her mandolin.
This year, as part of the countdown to our own perfect holiday dinners, I thought I’d revive this Ina classic, heavy cream and all, for BGSK. Since I’m not the best at following recipes, even the ones that I know will turn out perfectly every time, I added a little twist to Ina’s gratin, adding leeks to the onion and fennel mixture for an extra layer of aromatics amidst the cheesy, creamy goodness.
The most time consuming part of this dish, if you don’t have a mandolin, is carefully slicing the potatoes so they’re paper thin. But it’s worth it. Serve the gratin alongside steak, lamb chops, or even a rich French beef stew, and bring a little piece of Paris, great smells and all, home for the holidays with you.
From my kitchen, where a perfect holiday dinner always includes a little bit of Ina, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Potato, Leek, and Fennel Gratin
Makes 4-6 servings
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
1 fennel bulb, trimmed
1 small yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 leeks, white and green parts only, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound russet potatoes (2 large potatoes), peeled and sliced as thin as possible
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (1/4 pound)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Butter the inside of an 8 x 8 inch baking dish, or alternatively, 4 oven-proof gratin dishes or soup bowls.
Cut the fennel bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the leeks and sauté for 4 minutes more.
Mix the potatoes in a large bowl with 1 cup of cream, 1 cup of Gruyère, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel, onion, and leek mixture and mix well.
Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining cream and Gruyère and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.