I frequently make a potato gratin – a potato casserole with elegantly layered thin slices of potato, heavy cream, and a topping of cheese – for special meals or events I’m catering. It’s pretty when sliced, it’s decadent, and it can be made ahead and reheated. Imagine relaxing on Thanksgiving instead of cooking all day, right?! Well last week as I was making this for a catered party that was to be held the day after I moved my mom into assisted living (an 8 hour, storm the place, family effort to get her moved that left me mentally and physically exhausted), I just didn’t have the time or energy for meticulously layering the potatoes and other ingredients to create the gratin the way I usually do. And then, in a moment of exhaustion or brilliance, an idea came to me.In all fairness, I shouldn’t claim this as my own brilliant idea. What actually happened is that a memory of watching Ina Garten on The Barefoot Contessa years ago popped into my head and I remember her just dumping everything into the dish to bake. Sure enough, if you thinly slice the potatoes into a bowl of cold water (to keep them from browning while you work) and then drain them and toss them with the cream, you can dump the whole thing into a large baking dish and press them down into a layered dish like this just as easily. Whew – that sure made my day easier last week, and I’m hoping it might make your holiday easier too.
- 6 large russet potatoes, peeled
- 1½ to 2 cups heavy cream (see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
- Thinly slice the potatoes using a mandoline or chef's knife. Hold sliced potatoes in a large bowl of cold water while you work to keep them from browning. When all of the potatoes are sliced, drain them and pat them dry. Return to the bowl and add cream, thyme, salt, and pepper and toss to coat all of the potatoes with some cream. (Your hands work best for this step.)
- Spray a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with cooking spray and pour the potatoes into the dish, spreading into an even layer and pressing down to remove any air pockets. Top with the cheese (and an extra sprinkling of thyme if you like) and cover with foil you have sprayed with cooking spray (to prevent sticking). Bake at 375 degrees until the cream has thickened and the potatoes are cooked through, about 60-90 minutes, removing the the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking to brown the top slightly. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.