Scalloped potatoes are rather labor-intensive, unhealthy (all that cheese) and expensive (all that cheese!), so it’s not something I make often. One question always seems to arise: when is a good time to make scalloped potatoes? The simplest answer is a few days after you’ve baked a ham. My family always had a ham for New Year’s Day; the leftovers usually were reborn into melting cheesy delight a few days afterward. I was always content with this arrangement.
My husband, always looking for excuses to have scalloped potatoes, thinks there ought to be a national holiday in their honor. With the ridiculous numbers of lobbying groups as holiday-happy as they are, I thought it might already exist- so I checked that great and powerful source of all knowledge, the internet. I couldn’t find an actual scalloped potato day (although there are various dairy-based holidays, a national potato day, a national potato month [this is, after all, the federal government] and a national casserole day). In these forays I also learned something of vital importance- today, November 19th, is National Blow Bagpipes Day and Play Monopoly Day. So, while you’re listening to your state-sanctioned bagpipe tunes and playing an endless game of monopoly, you may as well eat some scalloped potatoes.
Here it is: THE RECIPE!
8 medium large potatoes; I like russets
~ 1/2 lb ham scraps, diced
1 large onion, cut in 10-degree meridians
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
1-2 broccoli crowns, diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, diced
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl flour
2 Tbl cream
1 1/2 C buttermilk
salt and pepper to taste
~ 1 tsp garlic powder (optional)
1 lb good melting cheese (I used half mozzarella and half muenster; swiss, jack and provolone are some of my other favorites), shredded or finely cut
The Prep: Start by boiling the potatoes whole; this will take about 30-40 minutes (even upwards of an hour) depending upon the size of the potatoes. In the meantime, you’ve got a lot of chopping to do.
Sweat your beautifully cut vegetables until the onions are transparent and the broccoli turns a brilliant green. Put them somewhere handy and use the same pan (cast iron, I hope) to make the sauce. Start by making a blonde roux (the butter and flour); stir constantly over medium heat (or use low heat; it will just take longer) until it takes on a lovely slightly toasted color.
When you’ve reached this point, remove the pan from the heat. Quickly stir in the cream and raw garlic. If the cream instantly steams, your pan is too hot and will need to be cooled slightly before adding the buttermilk. Stir in the buttermilk, salt, pepper and garlic powder (if you’re like me and want that extra garlic flavor). Turn on the heat to low or medium low and stir until the sauce is smooth, thick and creamy. By now your potatoes are probably done; remove them from the water and slice them after an appropriate amount of cooling time.
The Assembly: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take a 7-quart Dutch oven (or other large, lidded, oven-proof vessel) and lightly grease the interior. Add a small dollop of the sauce to the bottom; layer the sliced potatoes, ham, vegetables and cheese on top of each other. Press down evenly to prevent air pockets. Repeat this process about four times or until you run out of ingredients. You can put breadcrumbs on top for a crispy topping; I usually refrain from this. Put the lid on and bake for about 45 or until the casserole is hot, bubbly and fused into a cheesy, delicious glob.
If you like a crispy topping, take the lid off for the last 15 minutes of baking to toast the breadcrumbs nicely.
Serve in a bowl, or a plate, or a platter… or a trough- it really doesn’t matter!