POMMES DE TERRE AU FROMAGE: Potatoes With Cheese

This is the last recipe featuring potatoes for the year – for our garden, at least, the season is over, and all the potatoes dug and eaten.  The provisions have shifted to fresher, lighter, greener offerings – green beans, tomatoes, summer squash – and so the recipe testing here must vary accordingly.

While we have a small window to enjoy certain things, we are never completely impoverished – there is always something provided for our table, and with the hot, humid weather and summer rains having settled in, these lighter vegetables are welcome.

Other recipes I have read with potatoes layered with cheese and baked also call for cream, or butter, or some sort of creamy-eggy mixture poured over.  My father-in-law makes an excellent version, with shallots.  So I was all ready with cream skimmed from the milk, fresh butter, and of course WAY too many eggs on hand so close to the summer solstice, and was all thrown off by the lack of cream, or butter, or even eggs in this recipe. In fact, the only liquid added is half a cup of wine.

Needless to say, I was disappointed, and had to find another use for an extra dozen eggs (chocolate custard instead.  The children are not complaining).

However, it baked up to be beautiful, all crispy with melted Gruyère, and the wine gave it a particular good flavor.  It did not stick to the pan, as I had feared with no involvement of butter, and I have half a memory of eating this same thing when I was visiting my aunt in Nice two decades ago.  It made me long for five-franc pieces, the narrow streets of Vieille Ville, and stumbling on the uncomfortable stone beaches of the Cote d’Azur.

In regards to the cheese – there are cheeses that are made in the US (usually from Wisconsin) that are labelled as “Gruyère,” and they are cheaper than the imported Gruyère.  I used real Gruyère from Switzerland to be authentic.

Cheese from other places might be made in the same style as real Gruyère, but the breed of cows, the forages they eat, the season, and their milk production all are what makes Gruyère the kind of cheese it is – not just what temperature the milk is heated to, or when the rennet is added.  Having tasted the subtle, or sometimes distinct differences in the flavor of our butter at different seasons, and according to the seasonal diet of the cows, I can say for certain that it really does make a difference.  I have read that the flavor of what a cow is eating shows up in the milk in merely hours, and a diet of a complex meadow of wild flowers will always taste better (for the cows, and for us), than a diet of dry hay, milled corn, soy, and alfalfa.

POMMES DE TERRE AU FROMAGE

In a hollow, oven-proof dish, pour half a cup of white wine, add salt and pepper; and on top, add a layer of raw potatoes, washed, peeled, cut into rounds, then a layer of grated Gruyère cheese, salt and pepper; then a layer of potatoes, a layer of cheese seasoned the same way, and so on.  End with a layer of cheese.
Put your dish in the oven and cook for an hour.

Potatoes With Cheese

About 2-3 lbs of good-sized potatoes that will make nice, even slices
1/2 cup white wine
Gruyère cheese (I used about 5 ounces)
An abundance of salt and pepper
1.  Wash and peel the potatoes.  Cut into thin, round slices and set aside.  Grate the cheese (I used a fine grater, because it melts more evenly that way), and pre-heat the oven to 350 F.
2.  Pour the wine into a baking dish.  Add a layer of potato slices, overlapping slightly for a pleasing effect.  On top of the potatoes, sprinkle a layer of grated cheese.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3.  Add another layer of potatoes, then the cheese, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continue until you have used all your potatoes, or are nearing the end of your cheese supply (hopefully they will come out even – you can always be extra generous with the last layer of cheese, or overlap the potatoes more to fit in more slices).  Finish with a layer of cheese, salt and pepper.
4.  Put the dish in to bake for an hour, but I would check on it after about 45 minutes, as the baking time can vary depending on how thick of potato layers you used, or how thinly they were sliced.
Notes:  I used the new potatoes from the garden and didn’t peel them because the peels were so thin anyway.    
 

{My grandmother, Claudia Meraud, was born in Nice, France.   She immigrated to the US after meeting my grandfather while he was stationed there as a US soldier in WW II.  We spent several summers together, just the two of us, living with her sister in Nice.  She passed along to me an old French cookbook titled  title is La Cuisine:  Guide Practique De La Ménagère by R. Blondeau, Chef de Cuisine.  It originally belonged to my great-grandmother, Lucie Thomas, who was a native of St. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace.

This cookbook was published in the 1930’s, and was written as a practical guide for a household cook before the days of the fridge and the food processor.  The recipes are delicious, practical, and (of course) packed with good traditional nutrition.

I am creating translated versions of these antique recipes, re-written for the modern cook, and tested with home-grown and seasonal food.}

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