We are closing in on election day and I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it. Enough with negative campaigns. Enough with the attack ads. Enough with the bluster. The only thing I will miss after November 8th are the Saturday Night Live skits (Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon are brilliant). Until then, I just want to hunker down, turn off the tv, unplug my phone and only pay attention to funny cat videos on Facebook. And eat comfort food – like this Potato Ham Au Gratin.
This dish reminds me of the comfort foods from my childhood. My mother, grandmother and Aunt Heather all had their own renditions of this classic casserole — each one meant to feed a crowd. Since we’re only two in the house, I’ve scaled down this recipe to feed two very hungry appetites or four along with a side salad. If you need more, it can easily be doubled.
The sauce is a classic béchamel, infused with a generous amount of cheese. I used a 4-cheese Italian Blend from Sargento, but you can substitute other types of cheese like cheddar, monterey jack or provolone.
I used a mandoline to slice the potatoes paper thin and chopped the ham into half inch pieces. Caramelized onions add a sweetness to the gratin. I always have caramelized onions on hand because I use them regularly in my cooking. I make big batches and portion them into small containers to freeze, so that they’re ready when I need them. If you don’t feel like caramelizing onions, you can skip it, but they really make this gratin special.
Layer your casserole with a little sauce spread across the bottom of the dish, followed by potatoes, ham, onions and cheese sauce and repeat for a second (or third) layer. Don’t forget to sprinkle on more cheese just before baking. To prevent burning I spray a piece of tin-foil with vegetable spray and lightly lay it over the casseroles for at least half of the cooking time. (The vegetable spray prevents the cheese from sticking to the foil.)
The molten cheese sauce will burn your mouth – so let them cool for a few minutes before digging in. The potatoes are tender and savory with subtle sweetness from the caramelized onions. The ham rounds out the casserole and makes it more substantial. This is exactly the kind of comfort food we all need to get through the next few weeks. Stay strong!
- 1 pound red skinned potatoes, very thinly sliced
- 1 1/4 cups diced ham
- 1/3 cup caramelized onions or 1/2 cup yellow onion finely diced
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, divided (I used a 4 cheese Italian blend from Sargento)
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir constantly, cooking for about a minute until flour is incorporated and bubbly. Add the salt and pepper and stir until fragrant. Add 1 1/4 cups milk a little at a time, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a low boil and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese until it melts into the sauce. Set aside.
- Spray individual gratin dishes or small, shallow casseroles with vegetable spray. Add about a tablespoon of sauce to the bottom of each dish and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon.
- Layer the casseroles with 1/3 of the potatoes, followed by the half of the onions and half of the ham. Spoon 1/3 of the sauce over the mixture and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon. Continue to layer the potatoes, onion, ham and sauce, finishing with a layer of potatoes and sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the casserole. Cut the remaining tablespoon of butter into small cubes and sprinkle them over the cheese. Place the gratins on a baking sheet. Spray a piece of tin foil with vegetable spray and place gently over the casseroles sprayed side down (do not seal the casseroles with the tin foil). Bake for 45 minutes, remove the tin foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes to brown the tops. Serve.