f I could have only one dish this Thanksgiving, it would be a tossup between this stuffing and this tart. Wait, I also need these rolls, these mashed potatoes, and this gravy. Okay, it’s hopeless; may as well throw in this salad and this turkey. But even though each of these dishes is memorable, I bet this stuffing wins “Best of Show” at our Thanksgiving table this year. I can’t seem to get enough of it.
A “tian” refers to a large number of French layered vegetable dishes, some of which include rice and a binder of some sort (as typified by Julia Child’s Tian de Courgettes au Riz, featured in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2).
I enjoy both styles but admit a particular fondness for the rich creaminess of the latter. It’s simple home cooking at its delicious best, and it lends itself to endless seasonal variation.
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 you should use a copious quantity of cheese and it should be excellent quality and aged to boot. In a dish this simple, each ingredient counts.
Years ago in Sedona, Arizona, a dish titled Fire-Smoked Lemon and Herb Marinated Artichoke caught my attention. I asked the server how it was prepared, and she said the artichokes were marinated for days in a lemon, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herb vinaigrette, then grilled over mesquite. She said they were to die for. They weren’t. In fact, I could barely discern the marinade at all.
Polenta is basically a thick cornmeal mush (although culinary goddess, Marcella Hazan, calls this description an indelicate use of the English language), which is either served hot and creamy from the pot with a sauce of some type or shaped and left to cool, then later sliced and fried, baked, or grilled.
I grew up in a Yankee household with a Southern father. So even though I said “you guys” instead of “y’all” and didn’t act one bit like a “lady” unless under strict orders accompanied by threat of dire consequences, some Southern mores were passed on to me nonetheless.
For instance, in our Seattle house, stuffing was called dressing, which is what my very lady-like Kentucky born-and-raised Grandmother called it. It didn’t matter if it was baked in the bird or alongside the bird, it was dressing nonetheless. It was served with perfect mashed potatoes (a point of pride for Kentucky cooks) and a silky, roux-based, turkey gravy.
The combination of tender cauliflower, creamy sauce, crisp bacon, smoky flavor, melted cheese, and crunchy topping make this dish especially appealing, as well as comforting at some deep level. It is the kind of dish I can imagine Julia and Paul Child eating half a century ago in their Paris apartment. And yes, I just saw Julie and Julia. ?
Is there anything finer in the world of vegetable cookery than a properly made Potato Gratin? Not in my book. However, there is a complicating factor that needs consideration. Potatoes are surprisingly acidic and have a definite tendency to curdle milk, half-and-half, and even, but to a lesser degree, heavy cream. What’s the cook to do?
Although it’s easy to make perfect mashed potatoes every time, many cooks face this particular culinary technique with trepidation. There is nothing like gluey, runny mashed potatoes to ruin your confidence as a cook. And if this happens to you during the preparation of an important meal, well the damage to your confidence may be even more [...]