Saturday morning started off with an autumn fog and an early start - I headed off to the farmers' market, hopeful that the Potato Man would be there with his delicious Dutch Cream potatoes, and he didn't disappoint. Rather excitingly, he also informed me that it was harvest time and next week he'd be back with a whole lot of new varieties to try. So there is no doubt that potatoes are likely to feature throughout autumn and winter on Four Figs. He highly recommended the Pink Eye potato for roasting - I can't wait to try it out.
Now, potato gratin can come across as a little plain, so sometimes it's good to mix it up a little and give the old classic some variety. Usually when I am feeling creative, I will add mushrooms and truffle salt (yes, I am obsessed with truffle everything). But this time I was inspired by the Cheese Man at the markets, who - while taciturn - had the most deliciously gooey blue cheese on display this morning.
I couldn't resist putting a new spin on my favourite gratin by adding some of this deliciousness to what was already a hugely fattening - and hence tasty - dish. In for a penny, in for a (few) pound(s), after all! The blue cheese gave the gratin a musky depth of flavour that, while not obvious, really added a certain something to the complexity of what is a pretty straightforward dish. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Blue Cheese Potato Gratin
- 150 grams chopped blue cheese (I chose gooey, but crumbly would also be delicious)
- 250 grams grated cheddar cheese
- 1 kilogram peeled potatoes (I love Dutch Creams, but something that holds its shape well is important)
- 600 ml thickened cream
- 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
- a pinch of salt
I started by peeling and then washing my potatoes, which were wonderfully crusted with fresh earth when I bought them from the potato man this morning. I love my ceramic peeler - it is much easier to use than a regular peeler and stays sharp much longer, so beware your fingers if you slip! I have lost a lot of skin off my knuckles over the years.
When the potatoes are peeled and clean, I plopped them into room temperature water in a large saucepan and cooked them for about 30 minutes. Test them to make sure they are both cooked before you take them off the hob. You want them cooked but not overcooked and soft - they should hold their shape when you cut them. The cooking time will vary depending on the size and type of potato you use, so keep an eye on them and test them with a knife periodically. When they were done I emptied the steaming potatoes out into a colander and rinsed them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set them aside to cool.
Next, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (gosh dang it, I used fan forced, so sue me). While that's heating up, empty the cream into a jug and mix through the crushed garlic and a pinch of salt. Set aside. Then grate the cheddar cheese in one bowl, and dice or crumble your blue cheese into another bowl depending on its texture. (Warning: gratuitous cheese photos follow.)
When all your other ingredients are ready, slice your potatoes lengthwise to around a 5 millimetre thickness. Lay them out overlapping in the base of your baking dish. When you have a single overlapping layer of yummy potatoes, pour half your cream over the potatoes and then sprinkle half your grated cheddar over the top.
Next, sprinkle all your blue cheese over the top of that, and try not to think about how bad this dish is for both your arteries and your hips.
Now, add another layer of sliced potatoes over the top and all the rest of the cheddar cheese, followed by all the rest of your cream.
Ordinarily, minus the blue cheese, I would add a final sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg, but in this case it would be a little too much given the smokey undertones of the blue. But if you decide to ditch the two types of cheese, just use the same amount of cheddar as specified in this recipe, and sprinkle away with the nutmeg - it really adds a great twist to the dish.
Finally, pop it in the oven for approximately 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the dish. You want the cream to bubble, caramelise and reduce down, and the cheese on top to brown, but don't let the top burn. The potatoes are already cooked, so you don't have to stress too much about that - the oven baking is really about making the cream bubble and the cheese brown. That's the key.
When you are happy with the level of cheesiness on top, take it out and let it cool just a little. You want it to solidify just a bit before you either slice or spoon it out. It just doesn't get better than potato gratin on a cold night. And try not to think about the cream!