Usually, when I cook for myself, I don’t bother making my food look pretty. Who else is going to see it?
Experimentation in the kitchen – at least for me – doesn’t always come out looking appetizing. I’ve seen several shades of muddy browns and wallpaper paste grays emerging from my pots and pans. The majority taste fine, the rest I’d actually consider using as wallpaper paste. Sometimes, however, I get a real gem of a color. Oatmeal with roasted blueberries has a nice amethyst color. (Note: just try roasting fruit, it’s so worth the cleanup.)
Although I totally embrace the ugly but good food, there are times when a girl likes to pamper herself with pretty food. Gratins, to me, have always screamed elegance. I mean it’s French, so that makes it automatically chic, right?
A few weeks ago I attempted my first gratin. Now, when I get an idea in my head to make something, I rarely have all of the ingredients I need or not enough of them on hand. Such was the case for my Onion, Potato and Thyme Gratin.
I had two palm-sized red-skinned potatoes and two small white onions. While my gratin looked very pretty (and tasted good to boot!), the next time I make it, I’ll make sure to use more potatoes and onions.
Onion, Potato and Thyme Gratin
Vegetarian / serves 3 to 4
4 or 5 red-skinned potatoes, sliced ¼ to ½ inch-thick
3 or 4 small white onions, sliced ¼ to ½ inch-thick
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup milk
½ cup half and half
1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
salt and pepper to taste
For the potatoes, you can use any type you like. I used red-skinned because I didn’t have to parboil them beforehand, and I love the color their skins add to the dish. Yukon gold would be a great alternative, although I would peel them and boil them until they are slightly tender, about 5 minutes.
The same goes for the onions, I had white on hand so I used those. I’d probably use yellow onions next time because I think they have a milder bite to them.
In a shallow oven-safe casserole dish, lay out the onions and potatoes in any pattern you’d like. I chose to alternate onion and potato slices in concentric circles.
Sprinkle the thyme, cheese, salt, and pepper over the onions and potatoes. Add the milk and half and half. I’m guessing on the liquids for this, because I increased the potato and onion count. I used equal parts of half-and-half and milk, but you can use more half-and-half for a creamier sauce, or more milk for a thinner sauce. The liquid shouldn’t totally cover the potatoes and onions, but sort of come up to their sides. Think of it like a bath, the body is covered but the head is above water for safety reasons.
Drop the butter over the top of the gratin and add a bit more cheese if you’d like. I’d probably throw in some bread crumbs to really make a nice crust.
Bake in a 350˚F degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes, or until bubbly and golden-brown. This can be served as a side dish. I like it as a main course, served over mixed greens. A nice bed of arugula with a squeeze of lemon juice really perks up the flavors.