Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Easy Potato Gratin with Ham

Gratin is what happens when you try to thinly slice potatoes for homemade potato chips, fail, and have a potato and a half of misshapen potato slices.  And a hunk of ham that was supposed to become end up in quiche that later gets scrapped.  And leftover Gruyere cheese from French Onion Soup.  Really, if you ask me, the leftovers in the fridge were telling me that gratin was meant to be! 

Working with what I had, I modified a Cooking Light recipe slightly (basically omitting the healthy part).  This particular recipe has you simmer the potato slices, along with thinly sliced garlic, in milk before baking them to increase the creaminess of the dish without using any actual cream or butter.  The milk starts to tenderize the potatoes and infuses them with the garlic flavor.  The softened slices are layered in a pan with chunks of ham and grated Gruyere cheese (and parboiled green beans, if you follow the recipe verbatim).  Finally, a cup of the milk is mixed with a bit of grated nutmeg and poured over the top, bake for 40 minutes and voila! 

Overall I was happy with the recipe--it gives you the cheesy, indulgent gratin experience without the excesses of cream and butter that so many use.  Don't get me wrong--those are delicious--but this is more appropriate for an everyday kind of meal.  My only notes on the recipe are that the garlic flavor that was so strong after the potato slices simmered in the milk became much more subtle--almost too subtle--after baking.  When I use this recipe again I will increase the garlic from two to three or even four cloves to help retain the garlicy-ness post-bake.  I will also double the amount of nutmeg, because that also became too muted upon baking.  These technicalities aside, I like this recipe for its *slightly* healthier approach to potato gratin and its adaptability.  While it's certainly special enough for a holiday meal, served alongside a big mesculan, spinach, and chopped veggie salad (keep cleaning out that fridge!), it makes a perfect weeknight meal as well. 

Potato and Ham Gratin (Cooking Light, April 2002)
Serves 8 according to Cooking Light--but 8 very virtuous side-dish servings.  If you are making a meal of this, as I did, only plan on 4 or 6.

* 3 cups of 2% or 1% milk
* 2 pounds potatoes, thinly sliced--they say red, I used baking, but I'm sure anything will work!
* 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (I'd use even more!)
* 2 bay leaves
* 4 ounces green beans, trimmed
* Cooking spray
* 1/2 cup deli ham, diced (look for nitrate-free, if you can)
* 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or more!)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Combine the milk, potatoes, garlic and bay leaves in a large saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil, stirring so the potatoes don't stick and the milk doesn't scorch on the bottom.  Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1 cup milk mixture. Discard the bay leaves, but leave the garlic.

3. (If using), cook green beans in boiling water for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Rinse in cold water; drain.

4. Arrange half of potatoes in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange haricots verts and ham over potatoes. Sprinkle with half of cheese, salt, and pepper. Top with remaining potatoes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir nutmeg into reserved milk mixture; pour over potatoes.

5. Cover the baking dish with foil and cut 3 (1-inch) slits in the foil. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes or until cheese begins to brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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