2 T butter, unsalted
1/4 cup onion, very finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
2 T flour
1/8 t ground white pepper
Pinch of salt, or more to taste
2 cups 2% milk
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded, measured while tightly packed
3 med-large (2 3/4 lbs) baking potatoes, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, shredded (yes, even more cheese!)
Spoon Mage™ Note:
In the first step, you will make a slightly thinner seasoned version of a white sauce called a Béchamel. The sauce will be further thickened by cheese.
Au gratin means sprinkled with cheese (or bread crumbs) and browned. In this dish, we’ll use cheese. Feel free to top it with bread crumbs; it’ll still be au gratin!
You may substitute your favorite potato – gold, white, or red potatoes. There is no need to peel these potatoes as you do with the baking potatoes. Just scrub it well, cut off icky parts, and leave the rest of the skin on.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and set out all the prepared ingredients for the Béchamel. Scrub potatoes, but do not peel. Measure the cheese.
Melt the butter in a medium sized pot that is set over medium heat.
Add the onion and stir until the pieces soften, about 2 minutes.
Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute.
Combine the flour with the white pepper. Add a little salt if you are used to it, but it is not really necessary.
Tip the flour this into the hot butter mixture. Stir quickly and constantly until the flour completely incorporates with the butter.
Continue to stir for an additional 30 seconds to allow the flour to lose some of its raw flavor. You will be able to smell the difference. Do not leave the stove or brown the flour mixture.
Slowly add 1 cup of the milk to the buttery flour mixture, stirring as you go, smashing or whisking lumps as need be. When the mixture is smooth and thick, add the second cup of milk.
Raise the heat to medium high and continue to stir constantly until the sauce begins to simmer and thickens just enough to coat the spoon.
If you leave the stove unattended, the milk will burn and you will need to begin again, so just stand and stir. If your stove runs hot, leave it set to medium. Knowing your appliances is part of being mindful of your own kitchen.
Stir constantly and breathe well the entire time.
After the sauce has thickened a little, reduce the heat to very low, and add 1 1/2 cup grated cheese.
Stir for one minute or until the cheese melts. Remove from heat.
Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with your favorite non-stick spray. Or you may prefer to lightly coat the dish with butter. Do not get excessive here or your potatoes will be greasy.
If you used baking potatoes, peel half of them.
Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and lay the cut sides down on the cutting board.
Slice the potato halves into 1/4 inch thick slices. No need to measure, just go for even, but not see through slices. If your slices are thick you may need to extend the cooking time.
As you slice, place the potatoes into the casserole dish, overlapping them a bit. Cut them to fit the bottom as needed.
After you have sliced half the potatoes and they are layered in the casserole, pour half of the sauce over the slices.
Peel and slice the remaining potatoes one at a time and place them in the casserole.
Stop peeling potatoes once the layers reach to within 3/4 of an inch from the top of the casserole dish.
Top the second layer of potatoes with the remaining sauce.
Sprinkle with 1/2 (or so and I frequently add the or so) cup remaining cheese.
To make it fancy, add a few dashes of paprika.
Cover tightly and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until the dish is browning and the potatoes tender when poked with a fork.
Should the potatoes finish cooking, but the cheese not be brown, remove the lid, raise the temperature to 425°F and let it cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Trust me on this. The crispy browned cheesy bits are important.
Remove from the oven, uncover, and let rest for 15 minutes to “set” and cool a little before serving. This is an excellent time to sauté baby kale or spinach.
This is a dish that reheats deliciously the next day – unfortunately there won’t be any leftovers.