|Excuse my flash. In real life, this looks like actual food rather than like something from Madame Tussauds Gratin Museum.|
I am bad about posting holiday recipes, and this is because of a certain kind of short-sightedness: every year on this or that holiday, I think, “Oh, I won’t take pictures of this, because it’s already too late to post the recipe for this or that holiday.” The fact that the same holiday will come around again the next year is somehow lost on me. And so you can never know about my Thanksgiving stuffing or my Christmas gravlax. Or, until now, my Christmas Potato-Fennel Gratin. And by “my,” I mean Ina Garten’s. And by “Christmas,” I mean 10 Jews and a ham. (Technically it’s 5 Jews, 4 half-Jews, and a lapsed Catholic, but that doesn’t sound as catchy.)
|Oh Potato-Fennel Gratin, I wish I could quit you!|
Last year, I made my Rosemary-Parmesan Butternut Squash Gratin instead, and there was a near mutiny. It was excellent, it was, and everyone could admit as much, but it was not traditional and, therefore, Bad and Wrong. And so I will not be trying any funny business this year. It will be the ham, which I love, because, please—you could baste it with dirt and it would still be delicious. And this, which is like oozy, molten mac and cheese, but disguised as a legitimate vegetable side dish. The fennel melts into the potatoes in the loveliest way and, after their long stint in the oven, you have basically talked 3 potatoes into soaking up an entire pint of cream. Plus, it is rich enough to serve as a main course for any vegetarian daughters you might have. I made it this past week because we happened to have a large bulb of fennel, and what was supposed to be 10 servings fed the four of us with only enough leftover for one person’s lunch. And this was alongside a ginormous pot of short ribs. My thighs’ thighs are rejoicing.
|A little cheese never hurt a person! Did it?|
This is adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook and it is obscenely good and ridiculously rich. Serve it with a side of defibrillator.
2 small fennel bulbs (or 1 large one)
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (3 or 4 large potatoes)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (I use 2 cups cream mixed with 2 tablespoons milk, because otherwise I have to buy a quart of cream instead of a pint, and then I’ll just put it in my coffee for a week and be fatter than I want to be.)
2 1/2 cups grated (1/2 pound) Gruyère cheese (We are not big fans of Gruyère. If you’re not either, then use something melty but nutty, like an aged gouda or Parano. I like to use that aged Dutch cheese that we always taste (and taste again, just to be sure) at our Whole Foods: Robusto.)
1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 10-by-15-by-2-inch (10-cup/lasagna-sized) 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.
Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them by hand or with a mandoline. (I slice them thin but not crazy thin. As you may know, I am in love with my inexpensive Japanese mandoline.) Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of cream, 2 cups of cheese, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.
Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 cup of cheese and sprinkle on the top.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly (sometimes I let it get deeply, darkly brown, and it is so good that way). Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.
|The ingredients look strangely innocent.|
|Some onions. . .|
|and fennel. . .|
|and potatoes. . .|
|layered in a pan with some cream and cheese.|
|But then something happens in the oven.|
|And you will never be the same.|