I love how richly comforting and almost naughty this side dish is. We don't make it too often, but when we do the first sight of butter and cream and bubbling up round light golden discs and overflowing the sides creates an excitement that builds as the time passes. When the gratin finally forms a speckled golden brown crust it's ready. The first hot breath taken when the oven door opens washes over me like a blanket of reassurance, combined with buttery expectation and sweet with roasted garlic. I grab a steamful bowlful and a spoon, curl up, and ignore everything else in the world for a while.
A deep, round ovenproof dish would be ideal. I use a 17cm square ceramic dish with rounded corners and flat handles on either side which is great. It is 6 cm deep. Try not to use anything with less than 4cm depth as you want to end up with lots of overlapping potato layers, sandwiching seasoned cream and infused with garlic, rather than a paltry three layer pancake. The base will be soft and giving, the centre moist and almost chewy, and the top browned and almost crisp.
Serves four as a side dish, or two greedy people.
25g/1oz salted butter
One clove of garlic, peeled
Three large waxy potatoes, peeled and any eyes or discolourations removed
150ml double cream (you may use less)
sea salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Rub about a half of the butter around the inside of the dish. Crush the garlic on a wooden board with flaked sea salt piled on top and the flat on a large blade pushed down to squash the clove and mash it into a salty, garlicky pulp. Smear this all over the base and sides of the dish, then season lightly with salt and papper.
Slice the potatoes into discs a few millimetres thick, like the thickness of a pound coin. I use a lethally sharp Benriner mandolin, which to me is worth every penny. Just be really careful not to cut your fingers; even Rick Stein managed to do this on one of his cookery programmes!
Layer the potatoes in the dish, with as few holes as possible in between. You might want to cut smaller pieces to fit awkward gaps but don't drive yourself mad - some space is good. It's really important that you lightly salt and pepper every new layer before starting a new one or the finished result will be bland.
Stop just before the top of the dish, push down on the potato layers one last time, and pour over the cream until the last layer is lightly coated. Pinch bits of the leftover butter and dot them all over the top. Season one last time, then put it into the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the kitchen smells wonderful and your gratin is golden brown and bubbling.
Photos to come - last night we finished this before even thinking about the camera...
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