French is a useful language if you want to cast your subject in a more flattering light. Does someone you know have a small chin? They’re not ‘weak-jawed’ in French, but rather they have a ‘fleeting chin,’ a menton fuyant, making them sound like someone who just has a really fun face. It is just as effective to use a French term in English to make something sound like it has more style or class (e.g., cachet) than it does: is something rather unrefined or primitive? Sure, in English you could say it is ‘rustic’ or ‘provincial,’ but if you bust out some French, you could call it ‘rustique’ or ‘provençal,’ which sounds much nicer.
So, enter the remarkably stylish potato
casserole gratin. Notably, not potatoes’o’gratin, as I thought they were called when I was young (and thus assumed this was a traditional Irish recipe), but potatoes au gratin.
Take note! A gratin does not have to be heavy with cream, butter, and cheese. Here, I use low-fat milk, just a bit of fat which you could exclude, and only a sprinkling of cheese. Plus, we’re adding spinach. This dish feels luxurious and rich, but is actually rather healthy, depending on how you feel about potatoes!
Potato Gratin with Sauteed Spinach & Caramelized Onion
about 2 lbs potatoes; I used 7 medium yellow and red potatoes
1 1/2 cups milk; I used low-fat, you could use whole milk or cream
1 bunch spinach, or about 2 cups, uncooked
1 small onion or 2-3 shallots
3/4 cup or so grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
2-3 teaspoons of duck fat or chopped butter (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 deg F. Wash and peel potatoes. Slice them as thinly as you dare – a sharp knife and somewhat reckless attitude toward your fingers is helpful here. Rinse and de-stem spinach. Slice onions or shallots. Saute onions in a bit of oil until they begin to caramelize, and then add the spinach to the pan and cover, cook until spinach is just soft, about 2 minutes, and turn off the heat.
Make one layer sliced potatoes in the bottom of a casserole dish, with the slices slightly overlapping, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then cover with a thin layer of onions, spinach, and cheese. Repeat your layers until you run out of ingredients, making sure a layer of potato slices is last. I had three layers of potatoes, with two sandwiched layers of spinach, onion and cheese. Pour over the milk, and use your judgement – you want the milk to be about up to the top layer of potato, but not covering, and you want enough milk to cook the potato but not for the dish to still be swimming when you pull it out of the oven. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. I added a few teaspoons of duck fat to the top; other recipes suggest a few tablespoons of chopped butter – honestly, I think you could probably skip the added fat, and the top of the dish would still turn golden from the cheese.
Place in the oven and cook for one hour, until potatoes are soft and the top of the dish is golden brown. Take a look at the dish after about a 40 minutes to check your liquid. If the dish is too dry, add a splash more milk. If you’ve added too much liquid, place tin foil loosely over the top to prevent it from burning, and continue to cook until the enough water from the milk has evaporated that you have a dish that is creamy but not swimmy.