There are few dishes in the world more deeply satisfying than a perfectly made Potato Gratin. And by perfectly made, I mean the potatoes are cooked just until tender (not falling apart), are enveloped in a creamy (not curdled) sauce, and are well-seasoned (not bland). Of course, it goes without saying that a copious quantity of cheese should be used and it should be of excellent quality and aged to boot. In a dish this simple, each ingredient counts.
Even though my earlier Potato Gratin post features a master recipe and SEVEN variations, there appears to be no end to the improvisation on this favorite dish. Why just last week, it occurred to me that I could make this dish more center-of-the-plate worthy by increasing the protein as well as the overall flavor impact.
So that’s what we have here--a luscious potato gratin with creamy ricotta, crisp pancetta, and melted leeks. Add a salad, and call it DINNER. I promise, you won’t hear any complaints.
Potato Gratin with Ricotta, Pancetta & Melted Leeks
When local leeks hit the Northwest farmers markets in the spring, I can’t get enough of them. They are marvelous in so many dishes and the perfect partner for potatoes. I can’t decide if I like this potato gratin better with Cheddar or Gruyere. The latter is perhaps a bit more sophisticated when you want to pull out all the stops. If you do use cheddar, it must be aged. A young cheddar will curdle.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces diced pancetta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or perhaps a bit more)
4 cups sliced fresh leeks (white and pale green portions only) (1 pound trimmed)
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried)
fine sea salt, to taste
2 cups whole milk ricotta
6 tablespoons cream
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
fine sea salt, to taste
3 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
¾ cup heavy cream
3 cloves garlic, finely minced, optional
3 pounds baking potatoes (Russet Burbank), peeled, sliced ¼-inch thick, and covered with cold water
fine sea salt
freshly ground white or black pepper
4 cups grated Gruyere, Emmenthaler, cheddar, or other well-aged, melting cheese of choice (8 ounces)
½ cup finely grated parmesan
- Butter 9- by 12-inch, 12-cup capacity, baking dish.
- In a small saute pan, cook the pancetta, turning often, until it is browned and most of the fat is rendered. (Pancetta is usually fatty enough to not require added fat for the pan. However, if the pan becomes dry, add a little vegetable oil and continue.) Reserve.
- To make the Leek Filling, melt the butter in a large sauté pan, add the leeks, and cook over low heat until the leeks are very soft but not browned. If the pan becomes dry, either add a bit more butter or water, and partially cover to complete the cooking. Remove from the heat, add salt to taste, and reserve.
- To make the Ricotta Filling, in a processor fitted with the knife blade, puree the ricotta until it is as smooth as possible, and then, while continuing to puree, gradually add the cream and then the garlic. Incorporate salt to taste, and reserve.
- To make the Cream Sauce, in a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and a couple tablespoons of chicken stock until smooth. Add the rest of the chicken stock, cream, and garlic, and whisk to combine. Reserve.
- Before you begin layering the gratin, make sure you have all components prepared and lined up on the work counter.
- Carefully dry the potato slices with a clean kitchen towel and begin arranging them, slightly overlapping, into the dish. When you complete the layering, you will have four layers of potatoes and three layers of fillings. The top layer of potatoes is covered with the remaining sauce and cheese only (no leek or ricotta filling).
- Season each layer of potatoes rather generously with salt and pepper. Then, over the first three layers, distribute ¼ of the grated cheese, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, ⅓ of the pancetta, ⅓ of the Melted Leeks, ⅓ of the Ricotta Filling, and ¼ of the Cream Sauce.
- Proceed with layering, ending with a top layer of potatoes, final ¼ of the Cream Sauce, and remainder of the cheeses.
- Cover with a dome of foil (it should not touch the cheese), and bake in the upper third of the oven at 375º for 30-45 minutes, until the gratin is bubbling lightly. Remove foil and continue cooking for a total time of 60-75 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when tested with a fork and the top is nicely browned.
- This dish can wait, loosely covered, for half an hour or so. To hold it any longer, stop the cooking process just before the last bit of liquid has been absorbed, cool, cover and refrigerate, and then reheat gently, covered with foil, in a 325º oven for about 30 minutes before serving. It is actually much easier to cut neatly when baked ahead and tastes even better the next day.
More Potato Gratins from LunaCafe
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- A Cozy Kitchen: Sweet Potato Gratin with Chanterelles and Comté
- Alexandra’s Kitchen: Alice Waters' Potato Gratin
- Brown Eyed Baker: Bacon and Mushroom Potato Gratin
- Closet Cooking: Pancetta and Porcini Potato Gratin
- Cookthink: Pear And Potato Gratin Recipe
- Leite's Culinaria: Old-Fashioned Potato Gratin
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Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.