Well, oh my. Finals are (finally!) over.
Now that I’m prepared to discuss, in some measure, the African Diaspora, women’s conduct literature, and how our Renaissance predecessors theorized on the ending ends of earthly learning, I’m prepared to start cooking; and more importantly, I’m prepared to start telling you all about it all over again.
The end of finals means, of course, the end of a semester, the end of deep, from-the-core sighs, and last minute cramming. It brings the (exciting!) prospect of one more semester to get through until they release me, adult-style, into the real world for good. Consequently, it also means the good old Christmas scramble: five days (and counting!) until the big day, for which I am totally and utterly unprepared. But, much like studying for college finals, I work best under pressure. Others may squirm and fret and pour themselves into flashcard-making, but I’m all about it. Give me a baking sheet, some canning jars, and perhaps a few rush deliveries from amazon.com, and I’m good to go.
And, in the spirit of the season, we were just given a ten-inch dusting of fluffy white powder. If that doesn’t make you want to throw on the oven for some holiday baking, string some lights, and dance around the kitchen to Mannheim Steamroller*, well, then, you should stop being Scrooge.
Although I can’t tell you what I’m making for Christmas just yet (my present list may or may not include all of my readers…), I do have some recipes stashed away that I’ve been meaning to share. So, without any better segue than - make this, it’s down-to-your-bones good, I introduce a potato gratin: made rich with mascarpone, and earthy with porcini mushrooms hidden into its layers. It made a fancy appearance on our Thanksgiving table this year, and I would be doing everyone a disservice to keep the recipe all to myself. Once you’ve made it, and I’ve sufficiently unearthed our cars from their heavy, winter blankets of snow, meet me back here: I have all sorts of tarts, and braised lambs, and pumpkin bread puddings up my sleeve.
*Oh, yeah. When I wrote that I was specifically channeling their synth-y rendition of “Deck the Halls,” but any equally cringe-worthy music would do the trick.
Potato Gratin with Mascarpone and Porcini Mushrooms
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)
I’ve made this twice now; the first time, the potato layers didn’t quite cook through, even with an extra half hour added to the baking time. This most recent time I quickly blanched the sliced potatoes before assembly, and that seemed to work. Unless you want yours with a weird kind of crunch, or you want to wait forever and a day for it to bake, that’s what I recommend doing.
4 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
1 cup whipping cream
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 5 large), peeled, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
Pour boiling water over dried mushrooms and let them soak for about 20 minutes in order to re-hydrate. Drain and roughly chop.
Melt butter with oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Whisk 1/4 cup Parmesan and next 4 ingredients in small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
With the mushrooms and the cheese mixture prepared, blanch potato slices in a deep pot of boiling water for a few minutes, or until their just slightly more yielding than before. (You don’t have to cook them completely, just get their cooking started a bit.)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter wide shallow 2-quart baking dish. Arrange 1/4 of potato slices in bottom of dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Scatter 1/4 of mushrooms over. Repeat. Spread half of cheese mixture over, shaking dish to settle. (It helps to heat the cheese mixture slightly.) Repeat this process until all ingredients are used up. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over. Place gratin dish on rimmed baking sheet.
Bake gratin until top is brown and sauce is bubbling at edges, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let gratin rest for a few minutes, and serve warm.