Summer at the Beach and a new Technique
Try as I might, I did not manage to write a post last week. We had our annual family beach week and though I took my laptop, not much work transpired. But I did cook and bake–cherry pie, soba noodles with a cilantro and ginger dressing, pancakes with raspberry syrup . . . and these fabulous scalloped potatoes!
Scalloped potatoes are kind of an old-school dish I think. My grandmother made them all the time (she topped hers with a layer of little pork, breakfast sausages:) and I grew up making them-sans sausages-with my mother. In fact they were one of the first dishes I made for my family for dinner all by myself when I was about 10. I remember it distinctly because I was in a bit of a black pepper phase. I ground so much pepper on each layer of potatoes that it verged on inedible. My family was gracious about it but that pepper phase lasted a couple of years.
So, I’ve always layered potatoes with whatever herbs, cheese, veggies, or spices I was using at the time. However this last week at the beach, wanting to spend more time reading in the hammock, I scrapped the layering and just tossed everything in a big bowl, put the mixture in the baking dish, added milk half way up the potatoes and baked it. Voila! Don’t know why this just occurred to me! It was just as delicious as always and much faster–actually better I think because the flavors were more evenly blended. Now I’m going to use this technique for other gratins, using summer squash and I don’t know yet what else, but I’m excited to experiment.
A friend recently lent me Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express. It’s a wonderful book of quick meals and what I like most is that his recipes are written in a paragraph or two with no long lists of ingredients and detailed instructions. The subject of recipe writing and how much detail to give warrants a whole post but in short, I would like to think that with some dishes, describing the process with approximate quantities give the cook more freedom and license to use whatever he/she has on hand and to taste and experiment along the way. Cooking can be very fun this way and in my quest to get people cooking more often, it’s an important part of demystifying the process and getting people to think about what they really like and how they might turn that into dinner every night. It really can be simple, fast, delicious and fun.
Scrub and thinly slice (by hand, slicer on a box grater, or food processor) about 2 1/2 – 3 lbs of waxy potatoes (not Russets, all other kinds work well) and put in a large bowl. In a small bowl mix about 1/4 cup of flour, 2 + teaspoons of kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and whatever other seasonings you like. I used 2 1/2 teaspoons each ground cumin and pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika) and 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes. Grate some sharp cheddar, gruyere or other cheese of your choice. Finely dice a small onion.
Mix the flour spice mixture with the potato slices and toss well with your hands. Add the grated cheese and onions, toss again. Spread mixture in a 9 x 13 baking dish, pat down a bit with a spatula. Pour milk (or broth/stock of some kind) about half way up the potatoes. Sprinkle the top with a bit more grated cheese and bake at 400 degrees until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork about 45 minutes. Finish under the broiler for a minute or two if the top isn’t well-browned.
Variations include lots of chopped herbs like parsley, marjoram, chives or oregano, diced bacon or slices of sausage, minced garlic, finely chopped greens or peppers, etc.
And on a completely different note, I have to include this photo of the blissful, beach week! Happy cooking and eating and reading everyone!