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Tonight's WFD is inspired by Patric Juillet due to him posting a link to his lovely pics and blog post The Wonderful World of Potato Gratins. Even though it's an older post, he recently posted a lovely pic on his Facebook page that had me drooling so I re-visited the post.

A few words on gratins first: the origin of the word gratin comes from the French verb gratter (to grate, I suppose before the potato was around, chefs would grate hard cheese to top up baked vegetable dishes such as Swiss chard, even artichokes). To qualify as a gratin, a dish has only to be finished under a grill (preferably) or in the oven, so that its top is browned (at the heart of the concept is simply food with something crusty on top, really). Well, there’s really more than that of course. A good potato gratin should be half crisp half chewey and redolent of caramelized flavors which have been enriched with a good stock (in my case, infused with fresh thyme) and a well chosen piece of cheese. I have done gratins with ordinary cheddar, Gruyere, Emmental, Fontina and even dabbled with the famous Spanish cheese, Manchego. I tried goat cheese once and the whole thing ended up as a mess…so don’t go there, unless you have to.
How can you go wrong with potatoes, cream, and cheese all baked together then browned on top?
Gratin Dauphinois
Gratin Dauphinois

Let's start with the classic, shall we?

Once again, from Patric Juillet

There are many ways to make a gratin, everyone has a favorite, and this is mine, for 4 to 6 persons: first I preheat the oven to to 360ºF (180ºC), then cut the potatoes into thin slices. I butter the dish, then add some fresh thyme cut finely. Next I lay the slices down, overlapping, up to almost an inch. Then I add a mixture of lightly salted vegetable stock with slightly beaten cream (half and half, to make a liter or 2 pints), then I add my grated Emmental on top (a generous amount, at least 300 grams (a bit over half a pound) then I sprinkle it with freshly grounded black pepper, bake for half an hour, and under the grill for another 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the intensity.
Now, a little variation:
Scalloped Potatoes with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Ingredients

    3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
    2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
    1 cup chicken broth or canned low-sodium broth, heated to boiling
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

For the Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto:

    2 cups sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
    1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves
    1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves
    2 cloves garlic, crushed under a knife and peeled
    Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Lightly oil an 11 1/2 x 8-inch (2-quart) baking dish. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.

Process all the pesto ingredients in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until the mixture forms a coarse paste. (The pesto can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 1 month).

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds (a mandoline or food processor does the quickest work). Add to the boiling water and cook until barely tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and toss with the pesto to coat evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Layer half of the potatoes in the dish, sprinkle with one third of the cheddar cheese, and sprinkle with the 2 Tbsp. basil or 1 Tbsp. marjoram. Continue until you have 3 layers, finishing with cheese. Pour in the hot broth. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley.

Another version from France:
Tartiflette
Recipe adapted from Gourmet Traveller

Ingredients
50 ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
100 g. lightly smoked bacon cut into matchsticks
125 ml dry white wine
6 waxy potatoes, such as desiree, cut into small cubes (leaving skin on)
100 ml pouring cream
250 g. Reblochon or any other washed-rind cheese
Fresh thyme, for decoration (optional)

1.Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat oil in large deep-sided frying pan, add onion and bacon and cook over low heat until onion is soft (5-10 minutes), add wine and cook until evaporated (2-3 minutes). Add potato and cook until tender (10-15 minutes), then season to taste. Add cream, cook for 1 minute and remove from heat.

2.Lay half the potato mixture in an 8 cup-capacity casserole or two 4 cup-capacity baking dishes, scatter over half the cheese, then repeat with remaining potato mixture and cheese. Bake until dish is golden and bubbling and potato is tender (30-45 minutes). Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread.

Now gratins can also be fantastic without potatoes. I have a favorite recipe that I have shared before but I'll bust it out again:
Cauliflower and Green Apple Gratin w/Swiss

Cauliflower works really well for this as it is somewhat mild in flavor and the texture comes out so well. Because I was serving this with a nice honey mustard glazed ham I was inspired to add the tart Granny Smith apple and use Swiss instead of a more typical Cheddar although that would work as well.

    1 medium sized head of cauliflower
    2 cups of shredded Swiss cheese, plus an additional handful for topping
    1 Granny Smith apple cubed
    2 tblsp of butter
    2 tblsp of flour
    1 cup of milk
    1 cup of panko breadcrumbs

Trim the head of cauliflower and then blanch in boiling water and drain. Dump the cauliflower into a casserole dish along with the apple breaking up any big chunks of cauliflower as needed to fit in the dish. I used an 8" round dish.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (you can use the same one you blanched the cauliflower in) and add flour to make a light roux. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and after the roux has cooked for a minute or two add the milk and whisk or stir to incorporate the roux. Turn the heat up and continue stirring to make sure the roux is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the sauce comes to a boil or nearly there it will thicken up nicely. Once it has done this turn off the heat and add the grated cheese a handful at a time stirring as it melts in. Once all the cheese is in and melted taste for seasoning then pour over the cauliflower & apple. Combine the panko with the remaining cheese and sprinkle liberally over the top. Bake in a 350 ° oven for about 20 minutes or until the top is slightly golden brown.

This looks delicious for a Thanksgiving side, but why not any time? I often see various winter squash on sale at my local grocery and this would make a hearty meatless meal!
Butternut Squash Gratin
Ingredients
1 3/4 pounds butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper
16 cups fresh spinach
1 cup half-and-half or light cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup creme fraiche*

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degree F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish; set aside. Peel the squash. Slice to 1/4-inch thickness. Remove seeds from slices and halve large slices. Arrange slices in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Brush both sides lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes. Remove. Increase oven temperature to 475 degree F.

Meanwhile in a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven cook the spinach in lightly salted boiling water, half at a time, for 1 minute or until wilted. Drain and cool slightly; squeeze out excess liquid. Coarsely chop the spinach; set aside. In a medium saucepan combine half-and-half and cornstarch; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in spinach; spread mixture in bottom of prepared dish. Arrange squash over spinach mixture.

In a small bowl stir together Parmesan cheese and creme fraiche. Spread mixture over squash in dish. Bake, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes or until squash is tender and topping is lightly browned. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

* To make your own creme fraiche, in small bowl stir together 1/4 cup whipping cream (not ultrapasteurized) and 1/4 cup dairy sour cream. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for 2 to 5 hours or until mixture thickens. When thickened, cover and chill in the refrigerator until serving time or up to 48 hours. Stir before serving.

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