Ah, gratins. I just hear that word and I think “rich”. Of course, they don’t have to be. A gratin is typically some kind of layered dish that is baked in the oven. I have made healthy gratins with beans, tomatoes and homemade breadcrumbs or with lots of vegetables and no cream or cheese.
This is not one of those gratins. Leave it to Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame to make the richest creamiest cheesiest gratin I have ever had. There is no restraint here and every single calorie and gram of fat is worth it. I first made this for my clients Stephanie and Mark last Thanksgiving. As it was baking in the oven and tempting me with the unbelieveable smell of potatoes, cream and Gruyere cheese all mingling together in exquisite harmony, I resolved to make it for Thanksgiving this year. When I brought it over to them, Stephanie had to hide it from Mark so he didn’t eat it before the holiday.
I am always a fan of things can be made in advance, holiday or not, and this was great two days after it had been made. Just be sure to warm it up adequately and you also might want to put the dish on a baking sheet in case any of the cream (yum!) bubbles over.
Even if you think you don’t like fennel, do not skip it in this dish. It’s flavor is very subtle and sweet and helps cut the richness of the dish – a little bit. Do not be tempted to scale up this recipe as I did. A little goes a long way.
Garten originally calls for russet potatoes in this dish and she suggests that you peel them. I used Yukon golds and did not peel them and the texture was perfect. I also covered the gratin for the first half of the baking so it didn’t get too brown.
2 small fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
2 cups plus 2 tbsp. heavy cream
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the inside of a 10x15x2 inch (10 cup) baking dish.
Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.
Thinly slice the potatoes by hand or with a mandoline. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of Gruyere, salt and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.
Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smotth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tbsp. of cream and 1/2 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on the top. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another approximately 45 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned. Allow to set for at least 10 minutes and serve.
(The gratin can be made 3 days ahead and reheated at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, covered.)