I had a surprise this morning when I sat down to write this post. I thought today’s recipe for a festive potato dish was gratin dauphinois, but discovered that what I’ve been calling dauphinois all these years is actually gratin savoyard — the difference being that the latter contains cheese while the former does not. Never mind. It’s a fabulous dish both earthy and elegant, loved by young and old, and would grace a holiday table with a French touch.
Gratin savoyard / Potato gratin from Savoie
Now, a little lore. Both gratins mentioned above hail from the Alps of eastern France, but the Savoie — home of gruyère and emmenthal cheese, and this country’s most mountainous area — lies north of the Dauphiné, which borders on Provence. Gratin dauphinois was reportedly first mentioned in print in 1788 when a local duke served it to some of his officers, accompanied by roasted ortolan buntings, small wild songbirds that are now a protected species (although François Mitterrand is known to have eaten them with great gusto during his presidency).
The dauphinois version of the gratin is made simply of potatoes, cream, garlic and seasonings. I don’t know who had the brilliant idea of adding grated cheese — this most likely happened centuries ago — but what I can say for certain is that restaurants throughout France serve the gratin that way and call it dauphinois. It is served alongside all kinds of meat and poultry, or on its own, accompanied by a salad. This past week my friend Tony took the Eurostar over from London for a one-day visit and chose entrecôte steak with a cheese-topped ‘gratin dauphinois’ when we went to lunch.
If you’d like to serve this gratin for a holiday meal, it would go beautifully with roast beef, roast veal, or any type of festive roast bird: duck, goose, partridge, pheasant, guinea hen, quail, or even turkey. At the moment, I’m thinking about which recipe to offer you next week as a possible main dish for your holiday table. If you’d like to weigh in on the subject, please send me a note using the Contact page on this site.
Finally, for those of you who live in Paris, I’m delighted to announce that I will be reading from my new book, Desperate to Be a Housewife, next Friday, December 13, at the Abbey Bookshop’s annual Christmas party. The event begins at 7 p.m. and will also feature the French author Christophe Lebold presenting his new biography of Leonard Cohen. The bookshop is offering mulled wine and Christmas goodies. Contributions of Christmas cookies are welcome! I do hope to see you there.