Like most people, I love potatoes. There is scarcely any variety or preparation of them I don't enjoy. But one of my favorites comes from as close to a bible as we have in the kitchen, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.
Pommes de terre boulangère is a gratin of thinly sliced potatoes, onion and garlic first parboiled then baked in a flavorful herbed stock. The potatoes release starch into the stock, which in turn thickens and forms an unctuous medium. The top layer browns and crisps, and the rest stays soft and yummy.
This is one of my all-time favorite side dishes; it goes especially well with a nice roast chicken. It is elegant, flavorful and above all else easy. Plus, the thickened stock gives a richness that implies creaminess, yet there is no dairy and practically no fat. This recipe is easily made vegetarian, even vegan, but replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water, and is to the best of my knowledge gluten-free.
The one trick, if you can call it that, is to invest in a mandoline; a cheap Benriner does the job very nicely. You want thin, even slices of everything, and the mandoline accomplishes that with astonishing speed.
Use small, waxy potatoes, like Yukon golds or small white potatoes. I have also mixed up Yukons with fingerlings for some contrast in flavor and texture, and that works very well.
I have found that this is also a recipe that defies precision, so the measurements I give are rough at best. It is most of all about maintaining a balance between the amount of stock versus the potato mixture. Too much, and your gratin will be soupy; too little and it will be dry and tough. On the whole, though, it is better to err on the side of dryness when in doubt.
Pommes de terre boulangère
Adapted from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
1 lb. small waxy potatoes, such as Yukon gold
1 small onion
3-5 cloves garlic
2-3 c. chicken stock
a few sprigs of thyme
good pinch herbes de Provence or other dry herbs
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400ºF
Using a mandoline, slice potatoes, onion and garlic into 1/8" slices directly into a large skillet; do not rinse the potatoes. Add herbs and enough stock just to cover completely, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil gently for 3-5 minutes, until the liquid thickens. Pour the whole mixture into a 9" x 9" baking dish. Try to get everything down to an even, thin level. Put in the oven and bake for roughly 40 minutes, until the surface is browned. Let cool for 15 minutes and serve.
Related: Mister Ooijer promptly scampers off and makes a dish of his own. Or, at least I think that's what it says.