potato love


Some people like chocolate, so I hear. The sort of people who say “eat dessert first,” and mean it. The sort of people who really would rather have something sweet than almost anything else. I am not one of those people. I like potatoes. The saltier, the better, but chances are good that if it is made of potatoes, I will probably like it. Potato chips are one of the finest things life has to offer, in my opinion (and I am vindicated in my opinion by the Parsi food pyramid). I am also very fond of small yellow potatoes roasted until they are creamy inside and crusty outside. But I don’t complain about potatoes bathed in heavy cream, herbs and cheese. Nope.

Yes, I was on a low-carb diet at one time. No, it didn’t stick. For obvious reasons. And this is why I walk several miles a day. To avoid being potato-shaped as well as potato-obsessed. Anyway…


We made scalloped potatoes a few days ago, for a celebratory dinner at home. We pulled out two pretty beef tenderloin steaks, threw together a Caesar salad, and tried a new potato recipe out of America’s Test Kitchen, which was still open from making challah the previous evening. The whole dinner was wonderful, but these potatoes really clinched it for me.

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potato-beet gratin

potato beet gratin

So you may recall that last week there was a dish specifically designed to use up beet greens, but the beets themselves never made an appearance. Here they are! I deeply regret not taking a picture of them while they were fresh and intact, because they were beautiful – but you’ll just have to cope with pictures of the finished product, a gratin of beets, potatoes, and cheese. The beets were from Blue Heron Farm, and the potatoes from Frog’s Song Farm. The cheese was from the supermarket (sorry, the local cheesemaker doesn’t do Gruyère-style).

This is based on an actual recipe from one of our old standbys, the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. It calls for specific quantities and measurements, of course, but I never have the exact amounts of anything so I end up just tossing stuff in however. The key is adding plenty of cheese and cream.

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shrimp gratin

prawn gratin

It’s a strange thing that sometimes, when you first glance through a new cookbook, one particular recipe catches your eye. You make it, and like it, then never make any other recipe out of that book – you just keep making that first recipe over and over again. Or maybe that’s just me.

This recipe is out of a library book, Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Way, which I checked out when I was feeling particularly crunched for time and wanted some quick dinner ideas. I was thrilled when I discovered this gratin, which is quick to assemble, even quicker to bake, and doesn’t taste quite like anything else I make. And it’s very easy to make just enough for two people – no messy leftovers. The shrimp both bake and steam in the moisture from the wine and vegetables and are beautifully crisp and tender, with the nice crunchy breadcrumb topping over all.

rainbow chard

Because of the basic perfection of the original recipe, I’ve not played around with it at all, except to get rather casual about quantities – except that this time I decided to gather a few leaves of fresh rainbow chard from my tiny backyard plot, shred them and scatter them into the gratin. Continue reading

making it up as I go along

pasta gratin

This was an impromptu sort of dinner. I had gotten a couple things out of the freezer the day before – a smoked andouille sausage (left over from the cassoulet) and a container of pesto from a long-gone summer. There was a bunch of (very non-local) asparagus in the fridge that I had bought on spec and done nothing with, and half a box of macaroni sitting in the cupboard.

So, making it up as I went along, I put on pasta water to boil and put together a small pan of bechamel sauce. Once the sauce was thickened I stirred a heaping spoonful of pesto into it. I warmed up the andouille and sliced it thinly, and chopped the asparagus into inch-long pieces. When the macaroni was almost cooked, I dropped the asparagus into the water with the pasta to blanch it, then drained it all at once. I mixed the macaroni and asparagus with the pesto bechamel and the sliced sausage in a gratin pan, then grated fresh parmesan over it all and sprinkled breadcrumbs on top. I let it sit in a 450° oven for ten minutes or so until we got hungry and ate it.

Not the sort of dinner I make very often, but strangely comforting. And easy, too.