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Three Cheese Potatoes Au Gratin with Leeks, Fennel and Bacon
This recipe is upscaled from an ad for Wolf Gourmet that I saw in Fine Cooking many years ago. The first time I made this it was good, but I thought it could be better! It needed more cheese … and more bacon. That reminded me of the absolute BEST grilled cheese sandwich I have ever devoured, the Cheese Toastie from the Kappacasien Stall at the Borough Market in London.Cheese Toasties are made with Gruyère, English cheddar, and Comté cheeses resulting in an oozy, delicious sandwich well worth the calories. For this gratin, I used those same cheeses plus fennel and garlic.
Many potato gratin recipes call for gruyère only, so if you can’t find the different cheeses then stick with a good quality Gruyère. Other cheese combo ideas include parmesan, asiago, fontina, maybe a sharp cheddar or Double Gloucester?
What’s the difference between a gratin and scalloped potatoes? Au Gratin potatoes are made with cream, cheese and butter.
As far as the potatoes, Yukon Golds or red skinned potatoes are a good choice and they don’t have to be peeled. But try to select the same size AND cut them as thin as possible so they cook evenly.
This recipe differs a bit from other gratin recipes as the potatoes simmer in the cream before being baked with the cheeses. The recipe also calls for freshly grated nutmeg. According to my Penzeys’ nutmeg bag, ten seconds of grating nutmeg yields ½ teaspoon. I grated half a whole nutmeg using a microplane for use in this recipe because, just like cinnamon, we are all in on nutmeg!
For best results, shred your own cheese from a block as the pre-shredded cheeses don’t taste as good and don’t melt as nicely (just my opinion). AND, use good quality cheeses for a richer flavor.
Lastly, it is imperative that you let the gratin rest for 20 to 30 minutes so the liquid is reabsorbed by the potatoes. This is great as it gives you time to get everything else on the table.
2 ½ pounds Yukon Gold or red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/8-inch slices
2 ½ cups light or heavy cream
8 strips thick cut bacon
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
3 oz. Gruyère, freshly grated
2 oz. English Cheddar, freshly grated
2 oz. Comté or Fontina cheese, freshly grated
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon (see note above) freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted; plus some for the pan
½ cup panko or fine bread crumbs
½ teaspoon Herbs de Provence
¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400F. Butter a 3-quart gratin dish or other oven safe baking dish (9×13-inch).
In a large skillet with a lid, combine the potatoes, cream, ½ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Simmer, partially covered, over medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the melted butter with the panko and herbs de Provence. Allow to cool and then toss with the Parmigiano Reggiano.
In another small bowl, combine remaining cheeses.
In a medium skillet cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Set aside to cool on a paper towel: reserve the drippings in the skillet. Crumble the cooled bacon.
Re-heat the reserved drippings over medium-high heat, add the leeks, fennel, garlic and 1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence. Cook, stirring often until tender and lightly browned. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the potatoes to the prepared dish, spreading the slices evenly. Top with the leek mixture, the crumbled bacon and the cheese mixture. Sprinkle the chopped fresh thyme over the layers and finish with the freshly grated nutmeg. Top with the remaining potatoes, spreading them evenly and pour any cream remaining in the skillet over the potatoes.
Sprinkle the panko/cheese mixture evenly over the potatoes. Bake the gratin until it is bubbly, the top is brown and the potatoes are completely tender when pierced with a fork or skewer, 25 to 30 minutes. If it takes more time than that, lightly cover the dish with foil so the panko topping doesn’t burn.
IMPORTANT: Let the au gratin sit for 20 to 30 minutes before serving so the liquid is fully absorbed before serving.
Recipe adapted from Wolf Gourmet advertisement in Fine Cooking (Dec. 2016/Jan. 2017).
P.S. I was so disappointed to learn that Fine Cooking, which was one of my all-time favorite cooking magazines, has gone out of business and they even took down the website including all the recipes. Bummer.