Wednesday, October 27, 2010

one potato, two potato

A crowd-pleasing recipe is always something good to have in your back pocket. When catering large buffet parties I always like to include a dish that will knock everybody's socks off. I look to classic comfort foods for this, something that will resonate with most guests and ensure that people feel pampered and spoiled.
It is hard to go wrong with the fresh potatoes coming into the farm stands these days.

French chef and cookbook writer Madeleine Kamman's potato gratin suits the bill completely. This recipe is uncomplicated to make and deeply satisfying to eat. I always include it in my annual family Christmas dinner. It a great compliment for large spreads and goes especially well with roasts and braises of any kind.
These two well thumbed copies of her books have served me well. I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class with Ms. Kamman several years ago and my copy of her The New Making of a Cook is signed!

Last weekend I made this gratin for a party I catered for 30 guests. There was a lot of peeling, I went through ten pounds of potatoes and more than 1 quart of cream, but the beauty of the recipe is that it can easily be scaled up or down. The potatoes can be peeled and sliced the day before cooking and stored in the fridge completely covered in water. Once baked it can be kept warm in an oven for an hour or two before serving. Very forgiving, this recipe won't fail you. It is rich and decadent and perfect for a dinner party.
Potato Gratin
-based on a recipe by Madeleine Kamman
1 garlic clove
2 Tbs. butter
4 large potatoes, thinly sliced
pinch of ground nutmeg
s &p to taste
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Rub garlic onto the bottom amd sides of an oven proof cassarole dish. I use a paper towl to hold the garlic and really crush it down as I rub. Discard the remains of the garlic and rub the dish with the butter. Layer the potato slices in  the dish, adding salt and pepper and nutmeg to each layer as you go. Pour the cream into the pan and shake a bit to distribute around the potatoes. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, using a spatula every now and then during baking to push the potatoes down and allow the cream to rise up. There will be a golden brown crust when the dish is finished baking.
Will keep for at least two hours in a warm oven before serving if needed.

serves four.

MMMMMM. How can this recipe not be delicious? As this would be a side dish, and not a main meal, you would pair a wine with the main course. However, the simplicity of this dish, and the "basic" flavor profile of really allows it to be quite wine-friendly.

I have a few thoughts in mind regarding wine choice. For a white, you could go in one of two directions - complement, or contrast. Both these schools of thought work quite well when it comes to pairing wine with food. A rich, buttery Chardonnay would be a great match if you are looking to "complement" the potatoes. The similar qualities in the wine and food are perfect together. If you are looking for a contrast, I would look towards something with crisp acidity to "cut through" the rich, buttery flavors of the potatoes, perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc. A "contrasting" wine will help cleanse the palate as well. Why not choose one of each and see for yourself?

For reds - though many would work, I am thinking specifically of Beaujolais. How could I not? Fall and the holiday season makes this delightful red a real treat.  Most of you are probably familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau, and Beaujolais Villages. What I'm thinking of are the Cru Beaujolais - these are site specific, made from the top Villages. The wine takes the name of the village from which it came. There are 10 different "crus", all producing wines with different characteristics. The wines are food friendly, and are a must-have at Thanksgiving. And, even the Cru Beaujolais are not too expensive. Most can be found for between $10 and $20.

The grape used for the production of Beaujolais is Gamay. For Deb's Gratin, I would choose a Beaujolais that is a little fuller bodied. A Morgon would be nice, with its earthy undertones.  A Moulin-a-Vent also would work well. A little oak aging gives this wine nice structure and roundness, perfect for standing up to the richness of Deb's dish. Sometimes, you might see the words "futs de chene" (oak casks) on the label which will indicate the wine has seen some oak.  These wines will typically be the more full-bodied of the Beaujolais. These reds have great depth, and are very fruit-forward. If you are not familiar with these wines, definitely check them out! For consistenly good wines, look for Georges Duboeuf. 

The store wine store I work for just got in several different DuBoeuf Cru Beaujolais at the shop. If you are interested in reading more about them, please check out Carlo Russo's Wine and Spirit World on line.

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