Operation Still Too Much Ham: Four-Cheese Potatoes au Gratin with Ham

16 Mar

Slowly but surely, 12 pounds of ham have been whittled down to 3 or 4.  It hasn’t been easy, but damn if it hasn’t been tasty.  I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but that doesn’t mean I’m stuck with sirloin and steak fries – we both know I’m classier than that.  Flush with a pretty decent spread of cheeses in the ice box, I decided that some gooey comfort food was in order following a long weekend that included viewing the region’s best baristas grinding, tamping and pulling at the Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition and putting my body through a gauntlet of court burns and and hipster beer.  Au gratin potatoes sounded like a perfect application and thankfully, my trusty Dean & DeLuca Cookbook provided me with a great starting point for my first attempt at the dish.

Four-cheese Potatoes au Gratin with Ham

(Based on “Gratin Dauphinois” from The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook)

Ingredient rundown:

  • 1 quart milk
  • 3 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • freshly grated nutmeg to taste
  • 8 medium low-starch potatoes (I used about 6: half Russet and half Yukon Gold)
  • unsalted butter for buttering the gratin dish
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (this is where I went with a blend of grated sharp cheddar, provolone, parmesan and ricotta cheeses)
  • 1 1/2 pints heavy cream (I used about a pint due to smaller batch)
  • ~1 cup of cooked ham, sliced thin
  • Breadcrumbs for topping (optional)

How it’s done:

  1. Place the milk and garlic in a large, heavy saucepan. Season with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  3. Peel the potatoes, and slice thinly on a mandoline or plastic vegetable slicer (I had neither and used a nice, sharp santoku. Place potato slices in hot simmering milk, and cook very gently for 10 minutes or so, or just until the potatoes begin to soften.
  4. Immediately drain the potatoes in a colander (reserve milk for another use, if desired). Butter a gratin dish that measures about 12 inch x 10 inch.
  5. Place half the potato slices in the dish, neatly arranged, making sure to sprinkle every single layer of potatoes with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg. When half the potatoes are placed, cover with half of the grated cheese and a layer of  ham. Place the second half of the potato slices, again seasoning with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Top with the remaining ham and other half of the cheese, evenly spread out. Pour the cream over and around the potatoes. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs (again, optional, but I love that extra crunch)
  6. Cover the gratin loosely (with a lid or with aluminum foil). Place in the oven, and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the cream has cooked away. Remove the lid, and place the gratin briefly under the broiler until it’s brown and bubbly. Serve immediately.

The simple goodness of ham and cheese with silky sliced potatoes and a bubbly, caramelized, crispy top is pretty hard to beat.  Main dish and/or vegetables entirely optional.  A fork will help.  (ed. note – one night later and the entire dish is gone.  Remember, 43n/89w is a judgement free zone.  At least when it comes to yours truly pigging out.)

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