Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking has been sitting on my kitchen shelf, relatively untouched, for the past five years. I ordered it during a burst of enthusiasm (and before Julia’s posthumous resurgence in popularity), hoping that her old school ways could teach me some new found tricks. Instead – and disappointingly – I found the book complex and intimidating, and my curiosity sank to eventual malaise, and there it sat, more of a status symbol than an actual culinary source, its pristine fleur de lis pattern, crisp corners and untouched pages gently shaming me every time I skipped over it when looking for inspiration for weeknight meals.
In September of last year, I went to DC for a couple of days to tag along with a friend on business. Remember these pictures?
When I wasn’t stuffing my face with DC’s array of fabulous food, I was cruising museums – including, of course, the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, where Julia’s kitchen from Cambridge, Mass. is completely intact and on display. I spent at least an hour perusing the kitchen’s displays, taking in each gadget and appliance as if it were the first time I’d seen one. Her passion for cooking was undeniable and enviable, and the visit left me with a sense that I needed to simply give the book a second chance.
Fast forward to last Saturday, and I was perusing the aisles of King Soopers, searching for the pasta section (it’s driving me insane that I still haven’t memorized the layout of my local grocery store with Rain Man-like precision – a must for a professional grocery shopper such as I), when I came upon the, ahem, boxed potato section. I paused. I have both fond memories and mixed feelings about potatoes stored in cardboard; they were one of my favorites growing up (not that I ate them often – mainly when mom was out of town and dad and I were left to fend for ourselves). I remembered that in Julia’s book, there is a whole section dedicated to scalloped potatoes – or what the French like to call Gratin Dauphinois – and I knew this was my chance to make amends with Julia’s masterpiece.
I could take this opportunity to pretentiously nerd out on scalloped potatoes, scurrying to Wikipedia so I can regurgitate some true-or-maybe-not facts about the beloved dish to my dear readers, but instead, I’ll simply share with you Julia’s introductory paragraph on the subject, which is infinitely more informative and jolly (and only to be read aloud, using your best Julia Child impression):
“There are as many ‘authentic’ versions of gratin dauphinois as there are of bouillabaisse. Of them all, we prefer this one because it is fast, simple, and savory. It goes with roast or broiled chicken, turkey, and veal. With roast beef, pork, lamb, steaks, and chops you may prefer the gratin Savoyard which follows, since it is cooked with stock rather than milk. Although some authorities on le vrai gratin dauphinois would violently disagree, you may omit the cheese. If you do so, add 2 more tablespoons of butter.”
And there you have it. Usually, this is the part where I would say, “make it your own!”, and tell you to add all sorts of bells and whistles in order to personalize the dish. This time, however, I am refraining, and I ask that you to do the same. This is a classic, quintessential, flawless recipe, and I beg of you to keep it just the way it is. One small warning: You will want to eat the entire dish, in one sitting, by yourself, with a big bottle of Malbec, and Bill Withers on the hi-fi. Just go for it, m’kay? Enjoy!
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Gratin Dauphinois (Scalloped Potatoes)
(adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
2 lb. red potatoes
1/2 clove garlic
4 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 c. Swiss cheese, grated
1 c. boiling whole milk
Preheat the oven to 425°. Peel the potatoes and slice them 1/8-inch thick. Place them in a bowl of cold water.
Rub a 10-inch shallow, ovensafe baking dish with the cut garlic, and smear the inside of the dish with 1 Tbs. of the butter. Drain the potatoes and dry them on paper towels. Spread half of the potatoes in the bottom of the buttered dish. Divide over the potatoes half of the salt, pepper, cheese, and butter. Arrange the remaining potatoes over the first layer, and distribute the remaining salt, pepper, cheese and butter over top. Pour the boiling milk over the potatoes. Set the baking dish over medium-low heat on the stovetop, and once it’s simmering, place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, the milk has been absorbed, and the top is nicely browned.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville, but has recently moved to Boulder, Colorado. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more from Laura, see her past stories, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook or check out Prana & Pie.