Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Constant Bliss with Apples and Potatoes

My recent Fresh Direct order allowed me to make one of my favorite autumn dishes--Mireille Guiliano's Potato Gratin à la Normade, from her book French Women for all Seasons. I realize that waxing rhapsodical about tart Granny Smith apples and dusty russet potatoes might not whet one's appetite in the way that writing about Guiliano's pumpkin petit pots or chocolate brioche would, but there's an important reason that this dish resides in my culinary stable: it's very, very, very good.
Aside from the brisk afternoon winds in Central Park and the cold hardwood floors that have been greeting my bare feet each morning, I knew that gratin time had arrived when I placed my Fresh Direct order and noticed that this otherwise ideal grocery service did not sell Pont-l'Évêque cheese. As I've noted previously, Pont-l'Évêque is one of my favorite cheeses, and as Giuliano points out, because the gratin consists primarily of apples, potatoes, and this cheese, which are ingredients native to Normandy, it's the epitome of a Norman dish. The absence of Pont-l'Évêque necessitated an improvisation that did not excite me, and I rather glumly scrolled through the list of soft cheeses. Until, that is, my eyes alighted on the one cheese that I might love more than Pont-l'Évêque, and that I never would have guessed Fresh Direct might sell: Jasper Hill's Constant Bliss. And it was on sale. The presence of this delectable little cheese was a sign from the grocery gods--Potato Gratin à la Normande could not only be made, it could be made in the likeness of a Californian who happens to love both New England (home of Jasper Hill) and France (home, of course, of Normandy).
The same night my Fresh Direct order arrived, I toasted some walnuts, boiled the potatoes, and browned the apples with a tablespoon of unsalted butter. Because I don't like my gratins particularly creamy, I always abstain from the crème fraîche or sour cream that Giuliano includes in her recipe, and instead dot the apple and potato layers with just the soft cheese (rind included); I often find, upon reheating over the next few days, that the cheese continues to melt, so that a thin film envelopes the slices and provides just the right, rich counterpoint to the tastes of apple, potato, and walnut. Yum. For the rest of the week, I enjoyed gratin for lunch at my office desk, and then, after a gorgeous, crisp forty-five mile bike ride out to Piermont with JSH and ZH, ate the last remaining bit with a Bunbury muffin. Autumn has arrived!

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