I had chores to do after school and thankfully one of them was dinner prep. That was more enjoyable than say…folding clothes. One of my Irish-German aunts taught me how to make ‘scalloped potatoes’: sliced potatoes layered in a rectangular glass Pyrex dish with milk, margarine(!), salt and pepper. No cheese or other flavors as I recall. Usually served with ham. It was yummy, but the milk always curdled a bit rendering it more utilitarian than beautiful. (Some recipes add a sprinkle of flour, but we never did.) Fast forward fifteen years and I’m enrolled in The Modern Gourmet Cooking School in Newton Center. And we make a layered potato dish with a beautiful name: “Gratin Dauphinoise”. The ingredients, in addition to the potatoes; more thinly and evenly sliced, now include a fine parsley-garlic mix (‘persillade’), heavy cream, salt, fresh ground white pepper & nutmeg and often gruyere cheese. WOW!
I’ve continued to make many more potato gratins in my long career. And in a nod to healthier eating, I don’t use heavy cream any more. I think half-and-half has enough milk fat to prevent curdling. It’s still a rich dish, worthy of a special occasion. For Easter, I’m serving this gratin with roast pork, so I’m flavoring the cream (that bathe the potatoes in the oven) with Dijon mustard, fresh thyme sprigs and crushed garlic cloves. The infused cream will subtly flavor the potatoes and the top will be beautifully browned. It will be a delicious and elegant addition to the Easter buffet.