POTATO AND SUNCHOKE GRATIN
It was on top of a French mountain at a ski resort that it all made sense. French food. I loved it. And always had. But for some reason it took trekking to the top of a mountain to feel freedom in that love and to realize that all those components I had always loved actually made the most sense when in combination together. The rich, creamy, cheese, butter, potato, bread type of French food. At that moment I was eating a seemingly simple potato and cheese dish but it would forever change me. It showed me so simple a dish could stand on its own. Be its own meal.
I leave for the airport in only a handful of hours. My house is a mess. My bags are unpacked. Business needs to be wrapped up. Dishes washed. So much to do and so little time. Plus, as I sit here I am unshowered and still curled up in my warm sweatpants and sweatshirt because northern California is quite cold of late. So, here it is...
- 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly into rounds
- 1/2 lb sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), washed and scrubbed well and sliced thinly into rounds
- 3 Tbs butter
- 2 Tbs flour
- 2 cups hot milk, warmed gently on the stove
- 1 cup gruyere, shredded
- 3/4 cup parma, shredded and divided
- 3 egg yolks
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper, freshly ground
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 375. Begin by buttering a casserole dish lightly and prepping all the ingredients.
To make the béchamel sauce, heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium until it is foamy, but not browning. Add the flour in a gentle steady stream while whisking constantly for about one minute, until combined. Next, in the same manner, gently pour the warm milk into the saucepan with the butter and flour while whisking constantly. Bring the sauce to a boil and then lower slightly and continue to cook, whisking often, until it has become very thick (think pudding) about 5 minutes. Add salt. Remove from heat and add the gruyere and 1/2 c of the parma and the rest of the spices. Stir to combine but then let sit to allow the cheese to melt, 8-10 minutes. Add the egg yolks and again whisk well until combined and the béchamel is golden.
Begin by placing one third of the sliced potatoes in the casserole dish, spreading evenly over the bottom of the dish. The potatoes will not all fit in one layer. Just try to keep it evenly dispersed. Next, a layer of the Jerusalem artichokes (using half of them). And then a layer of béchamel (a third). Repeat with a layer of potatoes (a third), and the remaining sunchokes. Press gently down to flatten. Then add a layer of sauce and the rest of the potatoes. Top with the remaining sauce and then sprinkle the 1/4 c reserved parma on top.
Place in the oven with a baking sheet underneath on the next rack to catch anything that might bubble over. Bake until golden and bubbling.