So much of the flavor in food comes from the caramelized, browned and earthy little bits, those lovely and rustic aspects like the ones found on a gratin; they offer depth to a dish, just as those crispy little edges in life, those slightly “charred” aspects, bring richer flavor and a more well-rounded experience.
When I think of the fine fare of wintertime, I think of offerings that are savory and beautifully rustic, earthy yet elegant; I pine for dishes hot and tender in the center, a little crispy on the outside, providing that deep flavor that tastes like a little piece of heaven.
A potato gratin dish baked in the oven, slightly sweet from the caramelized onions, yet mildly salty and herby, topped with a sharp and flavorful cheese, with distinctly crisp and golden-brown edges that give just a little crunch under tooth, is a complete comfort and simple little pleasure that truly speaks to my soul during the holiday season—when coziness is what I’m after, little offers more of that than this piping hot and simply-prepared dish.
It reminds me of that delicate place in life where the tender spirit meets and mingles with the craggy world, resulting in experiences rich in both softness and crispness, mellowness and boldness.
It reflects the best that life has to offer, with it’s sweet mercies and grace, plus those deeper, darker and more challenging moments that one just can’t do without.
All of it completes the picture and makes for a whole experience, an experience that has the taste of all the best nuances that both the soft center and the crisp edges bring. And together, those flavors are balanced, and they are perfect.
If the ripe age that I hold has taught me nothing else other than this: that so much of the flavor of life comes from the darker, crisper, more caramelized edges, then it has taught me well.
In the supple and tender center is where I gain some peace and comfort; but it is when I venture out towards the unknown edges, the edges where the heat sears and fuses things together, that I have more understanding of what all of life tastes like, and that can only ultimately benefit me.
Indeed, it is the crispy little edges that give not only a potato gratin its rustic yet exquisitely satisfying quality, but give life its rich complexity and depth.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Potato and Onion Gratin with Asiago and Fontina Cheese
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves about 4-6
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons avocado (or other) oil
• 3 large white onions, quartered and sliced thinly
• Black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
• 6 large, red-skin potatoes, sliced into ¼” thick circles
• 1/2 cup grated fontina cheese
• 1/2 cup asiago cheese
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
-To a large pan set placed over medium-high heat, add the butter and the oil; once melted, add in the sliced onions, plus a good pinch of salt and pepper, and saute for about 20-22 minutes, or until a nice, deep golden-brown color; spoon into a dish to hold.
-In a small ramekin, combine ½ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper, the paprika, and the granulated garlic and onion, and set this seasoning mixture aside for a moment.
-Preheat the oven to 400°, and line a baking sheet (½ sheet size) with parchment paper; spread about half of the onions over it, and begin adding the potato slices over the onions, with just the bottoms overlapping, keeping most of the slices exposed and not covering one another; once finished, sprinkle a good amount of the seasoning mixture over top, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the potato slices are tender and golden.
-Remove from oven and scatter the remainder of the caramelized onions over top of the potato slices, plus the two cheese, and place back into the oven, under the broiler, just until cheese is melted and golden-brown, about 3-5 minutes.
-Sprinkle the thyme leaves over top, and serve right on the baking sheet with a knife and spatula to cut pieces out, and scoop up some of the rich onions on the bottom.