ArchiveJanuary 7, 2006

A Bubbly Potato Gratin for Supper

I’m just sitting down to a bubbly potato gratin for supper, its just the perfect comforting meal for a winter evening – inexpensive, nourishing and truly satisfying. We’ve got lots of recipes for gratins, some are very rich, others use stock or a mixture of cream and milk, instead of the original pure cream. Many are based on potato, but delicious gratins can also be made with other root vegetables, eg celeriac, parsnips, or Jerusalem artichokes. The latter cook a bit unevenly but they taste delicious and are particularly good with game. Pumpkins also make a delectable dish. Most gratins can be made ahead and reheat well, so they are also a brilliant standby for entertaining, or for busy ‘working mums’. 

For potato gratins the most important consideration is to find really good potatoes, I generally tend to favour the older varieties eg Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pinks, both floury and flavourful. Try to find potatoes that have been grown without the addition of artificial nitrogen or with very low input. They will taste and keep better, but you will need to pay more to compensate the farmer for a lower yield. Check your nearest Farmer’s Market or seek out organic potatoes in your local shop or supermarket. In cooking, the ‘wow factor’ comes from choosing really good ingredients and being careful about the ‘little things’.

In the case of gratins it is vital to season every layer, do it lightly with your fingers, using Maldon sea salt or pure dairy salt rather than fine salt with chemicals. Bring the liquid to the boil before adding so it starts to cook faster, and gratin dauphinois particularly benefits from being cooked in a bain marie to keep it moist and tender. Once you’ve worked out a basic recipe you can ring the changes with any number of variations.

Look in your fridge, a chunk of chorizo, a few slices of streaky bacon cut into cubes and crisped up on the pan are a delicious addition, as are some spicy sausages, or chunks of black pudding. Various cheese can be grated and added, occasionally some coarsely chopped nuts give welcome texture.

Gratins are usually served as an accompaniment to say a roast, steak or some lamb chops, however, many of these recipes can be served as a main dish followed by a green salad to make you feel less full and ready for some delicious pudding to round off the meal!.

Mary Jo McMillin’s Gratin Dauphinois 
Serves 6-8
Everyone loves this potato preparation and it is so easy; great to put in the oven alongside a roasting chicken or leg of lamb

2 cloves of garlic peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt 
Freshly ground white pepper
230ml (8 fl ozs) milk
125ml (4 fl ozs) cream
35g (1½ oz) butter
1 kg (2 ¼ lbs) even sized potatoes
35-50g (1 ½ -2oz) grated Gruyere or Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6. In a 4 pint baking dish sprinkle the garlic, salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the milk, cream, slices of butter and place the dish in the oven to heat. Meanwhile peel and thinly slice potatoes. When the milk is bubbling on the edges, remove baking dish, strew in sliced potatoes, sprinkle with cheese, return to the hot oven and bake 20-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown. 

For a smaller amount use 700g (1 ½ lbs) potatoes, 1 garlic clove, less salt and pepper, 230ml (8floz) mixed cream and milk 1oz butter and 1oz cheese.

Gratin of Potatoes with Smoked Salmon

Serves 4-6
There are really two recipes in one here, the basic recipe is a particularly good version of the classic French potato dish Gratin Dauphinois which is delicious served with a simple roast or grill. Here we've added little strips of smoked salmon to make a favourite supper dish. Serve with a green salad.

2 lbs (900g) even sized 'old' potatoes, eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
salt and freshly ground pepper
9 fl ozs (275ml) milk
9 fl ozs (275ml) double cream
small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
freshly grated nutmeg
4-6 ozs (110-170g) Irish smoked salmon 
1 tablesp.parsley, chopped 
1 tablesp.chives, chopped

4 small ovenproof gratin dishes 4½ inch (11.5cm) bottom and 6 inch (15cm) top

Peel the potatoes with a potato peeler and slice them into very thin rounds (one-eight inch/3mm thick). Do not wash them but dab them dry with a cloth. Spread them out on the worktop and season with salt and freshly ground pepper, mixing it in with your hands. Pour milk into a saucepan, add the potatoes and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Add the cream, garlic and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg, continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the potatoes do not stick to the saucepan. Just as soon as the potatoes are cooked put a layer into 4 ovenproof gratin dishes, sprinkle each with some parsley and chives, add 1-1½ ozs (30-45g) smoked salmon cut into 3 inch (5mm) strips, cover with another layer of potato.

Reheat in a bain-marie in a preheated oven, 200C/400F/regulo 6, for 8-10 minutes or until they are bubbly and golden on top. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and chives.

* Can be prepared ahead to this point. Serve with a good green salad.

Smoked Mackerel and Potato Gratin
Remove skin and bone from 8ozs (225g) smoked mackerel and divide into chunky bits. Put a layer of smoked mackerel and a sprinkling of chopped parsley in the centre as you put it into the dishes.

Smoked Salmon and Dill Gratin
Substitute 6 ozs (170g) smoked salmon cut in small cubes and 1 tablespoon of dill in the above recipe.

Potato and Chorizo Gratin
Substitute 6-8ozs (170-225g) of Chorizo or Kabannossi sausage in above recipe.

Crispy bacon, mussels, shrimps etc , may also be used.

Gratin of Potato and Spring Onion

Potato gratins are a tasty, nourishing and economical way to feed lots of hungry people on a chilly evening, this recipe could include little pieces of bacon or a lamb chop cut into dice, so it can be a sustaining main course or a delicious accompaniment.
Serves 4 as a main course 
Serves 6 as an accompaniment

3lbs (1.5kg) ‘old’ potatoes, eg Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
2 bunches of spring onions
1oz (30g) butter
3-6 ozs (85-170g) Irish mature cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10-16fl.ozs (300-450ml) homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock.

Oval ovenproof gratin dish - 12½ inch (31.5cm) long x 2 inch (5cm) high

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6

Slice the peeled potatoes thinly, blanch and refresh. Trim the spring onions and chop both the green and white parts into approx. ¼ inch (5mm) slices with a scissors or a knife.

Rub an oven proof dish thickly with half the butter, scatter with some of the spring onions, then a layer of potatoes and then some grated cheese. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Continue to build up the layers finishing with an overlapping layer of potatoes, neatly arranged. Pour in the boiling stock, scatter with the remaining cheese and dot with butter.

Bake in a preheated oven for 1-1½ hrs or until the potatoes are tender and the top is brown and crispy.

Note: It may be necessary to cover the potatoes with a paper lid for the first half of the cooking.

Gratin of Potato and Mushroom

Serves 6
If you have a few wild mushrooms eg. Chantrelles or field mushrooms, mix them with ordinary mushrooms for this gratin. If all you can find are flat mushroom all the better, one way or the other the gratin will still be delectable.

450g (1 lb) 'old' potatoes, eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks 
225g (½ lb) mushrooms, cultivated mushrooms, or a mixture of cultivated mushrooms, brown mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and shitake
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper 
300ml (½ pint) light cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), or Irish mature Cheddar cheese

Ovenproof gratin dish 25.5cm (10inch) x 21.5cm (8½ inch)

Slice the mushrooms. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly. Blanch and refresh. Grease a shallow gratin dish generously with butter and sprinkle the garlic over it. Arrange half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and put in the mushrooms. Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes. 

Bring the cream almost to boiling point and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for 1½ hours approx. at 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges. 
This gratin is terrifically good with a pangrilled lamb chop or a piece of steak.

Pumpkin Gratin with Thyme and Parmesan

Serves 4
This can be a delicious vegetarian main course, or a substantial side dish. Cook it under a roast to catch the delicious juices. Any winter squash would work instead of pumpkin, but they vary in texture, so adjust cooking times. Test with the tip of a knife before pouring over the cream.

1kg (2lb 4oz) pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into large chunks
3 tablesp Extra Virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2-3 teasp. fresh thyme leaves or roughly chopped sage
150ml (6fl.oz) cream
50g (2oz) Parmesan, grated

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6

In a large gratin dish, toss the pumpkin with the olive oil, garlic and thyme leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes or until soft.

Remove the dish of pumpkin from the oven. Increase the oven heat to 220C/425F/gas 7.

Drizzle the cream over the top, scatter generously with the grated cheese. Return to the oven for 20 minutes until bubbling and golden. Serve on its own or with roast lamb, beef or venison.

Potato and Celeriac, Blue Cheese and Walnut Gratin

Serves 4-6
1kg (2-2½ lb) waxy potatoes, thinly sliced
1 large celeriac, thinly sliced
50g (2oz) butter
150ml (¼ pt) cream
150ml (¼ pt) stock
150ml (¼ pt) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
110g (4oz) Cashel Blue or Crozier cheese
50g (2oz) walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablesp. flat parsley, roughly chopped

Rinse the sliced potatoes thoroughly in cold water to rid them of excess starch. Drain the slices and then dry them thoroughly on kitchen paper.

In a frying pan, melt half the butter. Toss the celeriac in it for a few seconds until all the slices are coated, adding more butter if necessary. 

Bring the stock, cream and milk to the boil. In a gratin dish, arrange alternate layers of potatoes and celeriac, ending with a layer of potato. Sprinkle each layer with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour over the boiling liquid. Bake the gratin in a preheated oven 200C/400F/gas 6 for about 1 hour. If the potatoes brown too quickly, cover them with a sheet of aluminium foil.

Ten minutes before the end of cooking time, sprinkle with chopped walnuts and crumbled blue cheese.

Scatter with roughly chopped flat parsley before serving.

Gratin of Macaroni and Turkey

Serves 6
Macaroni cheese is one of our grandchildren’s favourite supper dishes. It’s a brilliant basic for all sort of yummy bits. We often add some cubes of cooked bacon, chorizo or prawns to the sauce with the cooked macaroni.

3.6litres (6 pints) water
2 teaspoons salt
225g (8oz) macaroni

Cheddar Cheese Sauce
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
1.2 litres (2 pints) boiling milk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley, (optional)
175g (6oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese (We use our local Cheddar which is made at Mitchelstown and matured at Imokilly Creamery, Old Charleville is also excellent).
Salt and freshly ground pepper

450g (1lb) cooked turkey cut into chunks

1 x 1.1litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn't stick together. Cook until just soft, 10-15 minutes approximately, drain well. 

Meanwhile melt the butter, add in the flour and cook, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes, remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk gradually, bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard and parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the turkey and the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil and serve immediately. 

NB: Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce. Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later.

Macaroni Cheese with Smoked Salmon
Add 110g (4oz) of smoked salmon pieces to the macaroni cheese.

Macaroni Cheese with Mushrooms and Courgettes
Add 225g (8oz) sliced sautéed mushrooms and 225g (8oz) sliced courgettes cooked in olive oil with a little garlic and marjoram or basil and add to the Macaroni cheese. Toss gently, turn into a hot serving dish and scatter with grated cheese.

Macaroni Cheese 
Omit the turkey and serve as it is.

Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked in the first place, it is very good served with cold meat particularly ham.

Foolproof Food

Belgian Chocolate Biscuit Cake

You can use up the plain biscuits left in the tin after Christmas.
Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons raisins, soaked in boiling water
225g (8 ozs) best quality dark chocolate
225g (8 ozs) butter preferably unsalted
225g (8 ozs) plain biscuits eg. Marie or Marietta
1 dessertspoon castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
30g (1 oz) chopped walnuts or toasted almonds

loaf tin 5 x 8 inch (12.5 x 20.5cm), lined with pure cling film

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water or in a very cool oven. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy, melt the butter and whisk into the egg and sugar mixture while still hot. The mixture should thicken slightly. Next add in the chocolate, raisins and vanilla essence and finally the broken biscuits. Press into the lined tin. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts and allow to set in a cold place. Serve cut into slices with softly whipped cream.

Hot Tips

Irish Seedsavers, Capparoe, Scariff, Co Clare –
Start planning your Spring planting – contact Irish Seedsavers for old native varieties of vegetables and fruit –  Tel 061-921866

New Japanese Restaurant in Galway – Kappa-ya has recently opened on 4 Middle St. Galway – selection of authentic homemade Japanese dishes and snacks available all day – Monday to Friday 11-5.  Tel 086-3543616

The 2006 Bridgestone100 Best Guides by John & Sally McKenna and Georgina Campbell’s Jameson Irish Food Guide of places to eat, drink and stay –essential travelling companions in Ireland - don’t leave home without them

Rockfield Ecological Estate, Rathaspic, Rathowen, Co Westmeath

This venture is the dream and creation of Imelda and Sean Daly. Through education, demonstration and passion for the green philosophy in living and culture heritage they want to show that we can happily thrive in modern life by working hand in hand with the earth and its produce and recreate the world of yesteryear. The idea is to provide to the public, local schools, tourists and businesses, an all-encompassing, ecological destination showcasing a variety of crafts, art, music, literature, heritage and organic food, medicinal herbs in an organic setting. They are open for guided tours of the house, garden, outbuildings and there will be seminars, forums and courses on all relevant issues. For full details contact Imelda Daly –  Tel 043-76024 086-0882433


Past Letters