The Happy Medium: Scalloped Potato Gratin


Style is not about covering your body with brand-name clothes from head to toe, or putting on the most expensive pair of Jimmy Choo. For me, style is all about knowing what you can live without and what you’re not willing to compromise, under any circumstance. It’s really about truly knowing your priority.  I once met a woman who selected her outfit based on the fragrance that made her happy that day. There was also another lady who matched a pair of $300 heels with a $5 thrift-store top. To me, that’s crazy sexy and super stylish.

Let me start out by stating the obvious that I have no fashion sense. I used to, sort of, when I actually cared about other people’s perception of me and went shopping frequently for cute outfits here and there. But now, I know what works for my body type and personality and I stick with it – even if that means I would wear a pair of simple black slacks or a no name-brand jeans, and a plain, black top day after day.  So, in a way, I may not have a keen fashion sense, but I do have my own sense of “style.”

I’m kind of the same way in the kitchen. I am pretty much a happy-go-lucky kind of cook, where I mix and match ingredients even if that end up compromising the integrity of the dish. I admit that I splash a dash of soy sauce in my Bolognese sauce to add a bit of mildness to the flavor. Heck, I even put Tabasco on a gorgeous pot of bouillabaisse! I know that hard-core Foodie would hate me for this, but at the end of the day, all that matters is that it tastes good and that it makes me happy.

There are, however, a certain things that I will never budge. One is Parmesan cheese. There is nothing that compares to the full flavors and deliciously pungent fragrance that ooze out of the real Parmigiano Reggiano block with the very recognizable yellow rind. When I’m low on cash, I may scrimp on other ingredients but never on Parmigiano. The mysterious white flakes that sprinkle out of the green tube have nothing on the real thing! Even with calories. If I know I’m going to raise the calorie count by having the Parmesan Reggiano in the recipe, I will reduce it elsewhere to create a happy medium.

When I make Scalloped Potato Gratin, I would cut corners (and calories) by omitting fat-laden butter and heavy cream but I make sure to put the flavors back by packing in aromatic herbs and, yes you guessed it, Parmigiano Reggiano, for some cheesy goodness. Because of this “negotiation” my version is slightly lower in calories at about 200 calories per serving but with flavors that can rival the traditional recipe.

Scalloped Potato Gratin

(Serves 6 – 8 , side dish portion)

4 large Russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups non-fat milk
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 twigs each of fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano
5 tablespoon Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Salt and pepper

① Preheat the oven to 375 degree F. Make the roux by heating the olive oil in a saucepan in medium heat and add flour. The mixture will resemble a paste. When the flour is cooked (careful not to burn), reduce the heat to medium low and add milk. Keep mixing the milk and the roux with a whisk.

② Add the herb, 1 tablespoon of Parmigiano Reggiano, salt and pepper to the liquid. Make sure to keep an eye, to ensure that the milk doesn’t bubble over! After a few minutes, you’ll notice that the liquid has become creamy. Viola! That’s your Béchamel (aka Veloute) sauce! Using Béchamel in this recipe gives the same texture and consistency you would get from heavy cream and other cheeses without the extra fat.

③ While the liquid is cooking, lightly grease the bottom of the casserole dish with olive oil. Put the potato slices in a layer until the dish is completely covered.

④ Pour half of the Béchamel sauce over the potato layer. Repeat laying the potatoes on top of the sauce. Pour the rest of the sauce on top.

⑤ Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano Reggiano on top and put the dish in the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes (or until the potatoes are cooked) and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on.

⑥ Cook until the cheese on top is nice and golden brown. I like mine slightly burnt so I left it in just a little longer. You can always finish it off by putting it in the broiler for a few minutes!

pork chopThe Scalloped Potato Gratin was a side dish to the Pork Chop I cooked up, with garlicky mustard sauce. I coated the pork chops lightly in flour, salt and peppper, and cooked them in olive oil, until the center is nice and light pink. Remove the meat and let them rest. In the meantime, make the sauce by adding 1/4 cup of chicken stock to the same pan and deglaze to get all the juice from the bottom of the saucepan. Add a tablespoon of chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. Let the sauce reduce to half. Turn off the heat and pour a generous portion onto the pork chop. Enjoy with a side of steamed spinach!

The potato gratin and the pork chop were really yummy!  I hope you will try these recipes that I created on the fly. 🙂

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