Sunday, January 1, 2012

One Side from One Sister: Potato, Fennel Gratin

My sisters and my brother all love to cook and at gatherings, and especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, many, many good dishes are made. I featured Christine and Cathy's dishes from Thanksgiving in a previous post (Thanksgiving 2011: Three Sides from Two Sisters) and now it's Sara's turn.
 For our Christmas Eve dinner, Sara made a potato, fennel gratin based on a recipe by Ina Garten, from "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook", and it's a very good recipe, but Sara's tweaks made it better still.
Slight caramelization of the onions and fennel, a little nutmeg plus a combination of Gruyère and Fontina (also doubling the amount) cheeses elevate the dish.

Adapted from Ina Garten, "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook"
Serves: 10 to 12 or more

Equipment: 10 cup baking dish with high sides (approximately 2"). If your baking pan has lower sides, check the potatoes earlier.

  • 2 small fennel bulbs
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter + more to grease the baking dish
  • 2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 pounds grated Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 1/2 pound grated Fontina cheese, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 350F, rack in the middle.

Thoroughly butter the inside of your baking dish.

Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and cut the remainder of the fennel in a medium dice and set aside. Dice (medium) the onions and combine with the fennel. Heat a skillet on medium heat for a few minutes and add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan. When the butter stops foaming, add the onions and fennel and sauté on medium heat until the onion and fennel is soft and the edges are slightly caramelized. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Peel the potatoes, cut each on into quarters lengthwise and slice each quarter thinly (1/8th OR 1/4 inch) and place in a large bowl. Mix the sliced potatoes with 2 cups of cream. Reserve 1/2 cup each of the Gruyère  and the Fontina and add the remainder to the potato and cream mixture, mixing thoroughly.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press the mixture down to smooth the top. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream with the reserved Gruyère and Fontina and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours until the potatoes are fully tender and the top is browned and bubbly. If it is browning too fast before the potatoes are tender. cover the top with a piece of foil. Remove from the oven and allow the gratin to set for 10 minutes before serving.

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