A couple of American readers have asked me about good sides for Thanksgiving and, whilst I have already emailed them direct, I thought I would give you this recipe today from my cookbook Friends, Food, Family for anyone wanting to add a very quick and utterly delicious potato side to the celebrations. It’s also excellent for pot lucks, as it travels well.
Essentially it is a quick – and simple – riff on a traditional Gratin Dauphinois but on the healthier side – milk instead of cream, and the potatoes are grated instead of thinly sliced. This can be done with a box grater, but it is the work of moments (and runs less risk of grating your fingertips) if you use the grating attachment on a food processor, which I highly recommend.
This recipe was a constant throughout our childhood. It works very well as a substantial side dish served with roast chicken or pork chops, and is equally good cold as hot – we used to take chunks of it in our school lunch boxes. It reheats like a dream, both in oven and in microwave. It is also equally good hot as a main course (leave out the ham for an excellent vegetarian option) and served with a green salad
The recipe is adapted from the wonderful 1971 cookbook, Poor Cook, by Caroline Conran and Susan Campbell, from which much of my mother’s kitchen repertoire during our early years came. It is one of the first things I learnt to cook, and was a foolproof standby that served me well all through university in Newcastle where, in winter, an icy wind whips over the city from the North Sea and food that can be used as internal central heating is essential.
SERVES 4-6 AS A MAIN or 6-8 AS A SIDE
1 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing and topping
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
100g ham, cut into matchsticks (optional)
50g Parmesan, grated
250g grated Gruyere or Cheddar,grated
550ml whole milk
couple of grinds black pepper
generous pinch sea salt
pinch of grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Use a piece of kitchen paper and a little butter to grease a medium china gratin dish.
Add the olive oil and butter to a frying pan over a low-medium heat and, when the butter has melted, fry the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes, being careful not to brown them. Add the ham at this point, if using.
Peel the potatoes and grate them.
Tip the grated potatoes into a bowl, and then squeeze out all the starchy liquid with your hands over the kitchen sink. However, it is important not to rinse the potatoes at any point, as you need some starch to thicken the dish. (You will be amazed at how much liquid comes off the potatoes.)
In a large mixing bowl beat together the eggs with the milk, black pepper and nutmeg. Mix in the Parmesan, half the Gruyere or Cheddar. Add the cooked onions to the grated potatoes and mix together. Tip everything into the buttered gratin dish, and then pour over the eggy cheese mixture. Flatten the top of the potatoes and dot the top with the butter. Strew the remaining grated cheese over the dish.
Bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes. Depending on the depth and heat of your oven this can take from 35-60 minutes, so do keep an eye on it. If the top is browning too quickly, loosely cover it with a piece of foil.