Po-ta-to Gratin

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When you have a French friend and she says she’d like to come home for dinner, I tell you it’s cause for great anxiety. She says she misses cheese and the only request is some cheese please.  Add to it she is vegetarian these days. Add to this you decide to be a total fool to try a potato gratin. Just imagine the amount of technique that will come to play.

Potato gratin with a very Indian element paneer or Cypriot grilled haloumi. Once all the elements are ready, assembling the gratin is a simple job. Very simple indeed. So the elements I used were: Thin grilled slabs of paneer (cottage cheese) caramelised onions and blanched and grilled slices of potato. Plus a blend of cheese and bread crumbs for the layers and the crust (this was largely because I did not have enough of Parmigiano Reggiano, but in retrospect, it was a delicious deficiency). Next is the béchamel. Sauces form the founding pillars of French cuisine. And probably if you get that right, the rest is an assembling job.

The trick to the right, no fail béchamel is butter, cold milk and a balloon whisk. Butter in abundance ensures the raw flour flavour does not eminate from the sauce and the bayleaf and nutmeg are subtle flavours which will not work with the overpowering flavour of raw flour. Plus the dollop of butter will save the sauce from becoming lumpy as the flour will cook through evenly. Next up the cold milk blended when the butter and flour are both not on the flame with a balloon whisk. Both together and the result is a silky lump free sauce.

So whenever you try one, don’t be rushed, play some John Coltrane, pour yourself a Chiante and meditate through cooking.

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Ingredients:
Béchamel Sauce
2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
2-3 bay leaves
1 pinch nutmeg
2 cups cold milk
Gratin
4-5 tbsp butter/ghee
2 large potatoes sliced
300 gms cottage cheese/ Halloumi
2 large onions sliced
1 cup bread crumbs
2 cups grated cheese (Aged English Cheddar, Gruyère, Pecorino)
200 gms cream
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a heavy bottomed pan add the flour and butter. Keep the flame on low heat. Stir and cook till the flour just starts to change colour.
  2. Take the pan off the flame and add the bay leaf, and nutmeg and stir. Add the milk slowly, stirring constantly with the ballon whisk.
  3. Put the mixture back on the flame, stirring constantly with a balloon whisk. Once the sauce starts to coat the back of a spoon, take if off the flame and pour into a container and set aside. Immediately cover the bowl/ container with a cling film to avoid the formation of a dry layer on top.
  4. Next, heat a grill pan and brush it with butter/ ghee.
  5. Grill the potato slices on both sides and set aside on a plate. Repeat this activity with haloumi. Add a little more butter/ ghee for the onions and allow them to really cook through to near caramelisation. This adds a lovely sweetness the the gratin. WHile grilling the potato and the onion, be generous with the butter/ ghee, else chances are that both will not grill well and will by dry. Haloumi / cottage cheese has enough fat on its own to grill through.
  6. Now the assembling. Take a 10 inch by 10 inch deep dish. Add a layer of potato, followed by the onion and the haloumi/ cottage cheese. Sprinkle some cheese on top. Sprinkle fresh ground pepper and salt. Cover this with a few spoons of Béchamel Sauce.
  7. Repeat this layering process till the top of the dish. Once the layering is complete, pour the cream on the top, slowly. This will enable the gratin to remain moist when it is put under the grill.
  8. Mix the bread crumbs and the remaining cheese and sprinkle on top as the last layer.
  9. Put this in a pre heated oven, and cook at 180 degree centigrade till the top crust is golden which will take approximately 40 minutes.
  10. Serve with crusty bread and more butter and watch everyone scramble for the crusty edges.

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P.S.

Watch

Netflix – Stranger Things – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4574334/

Movie – Amélie –  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4574334/  –

Listen – to a lot of jazz

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – My One and Only Love – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCpIuw_ZKEI

Edith Pilaf – Browning – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUC74h6AiaI

Edith Pilaf – La Vie en Rose – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzeLynj1GYM

Robreta Flack – Killing me softly – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgl-VRdXr7I

Nina Simone – Feeling Good – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5Y11hwjMNs

Read

In keeping with the French theme – Albert Camus – The Stranger –  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49552.The_Stranger

‘In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.’

  • Return to Tipasa by Albert Camus

Poem

Eternity

It has been rediscovered.What? Eternity.It is the sea fled with the sun.

Sentinel soul,We whisper confessionOf the empty nightAnd the fiery day.

From human prayers,

From common spirits

You free yourself

And thus you fly.

Since from you alone,

Satin embers,

Duty breathes

No one says: at last.

No hope here,

No emergence.

Knowledge with patience,

Torment is certain.

It has been rediscovered.

What? Eternity.

It is the sea fled

with the sun.

– Arthur Rimbaud – L’Eternité

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