I’ve always loved Potatoes au Gratin — a mixture of potatoes, cheese, and milk baked in a gratin, a shallow, oven-proof baking dish — but was never very successful making my own from scratch, despite the various recipes I tried. Usually, no matter how thinly I sliced them, the potatoes took so long to cook that any liquid I’d added would completely evaporate, and the dish would be inedibly dry. This spring, while looking for any hints about how to ensure that the potatoes in my au Gratin would be entirely cooked, I stumbled across a French dish I’d never heard of: Tartiflette. Since most of the Tartiflette recipes recommended boiling the potatoes before putting them into the baking dish, I immediately knew that it would certainly solve my undone-potatoes au gratin problem. Additionally, these recipes featured intriguing ingredients I had never thought of putting in with potatoes. My Potato Casserole was about to be born.
Tartiflette is a modern recipe inspired by a traditional dish from the “Provence region of France called péla: a gratin of potatoes and onions in a long-handled pan called a pelagic (shovel).” Tartiflette was apparently developed in the 1980s to promote sales of Reblochon, a soft French cheese made from raw cow’s milk in the Alpine-region of Savoy.
Because Reblochon is made from raw milk, it is no longer available in the United States, so there are many different Tartiflette recipes with alternate cheeses. Reblochon has a nutty taste, so most of the recipes substitute some form of Swiss cheese. Many substitute Brie for the Reblochon, in an attempt to mimic the melting soft-cheese texture. As much as I love Brie, I couldn’t imagine adulterating it by putting it into a casserole, so I substituted Jarlsberg for the Reblochon.
There are, literally, hundreds of variations on Tartiflette recipes. Sometimes cooks include wine, garlic, butter, or creme fraiche, but I prefer a less complicated version, especially considering the astonishingly delicious combination of the main ingredients: potatoes, bacon, onions, and cheese. Some dice to potatoes, some fry them beforehand, some break up the potatoes, but I prefer to slice mine into thick rounds. I just like the texture of the casserole that comes from that procedure. After a couple tries mixing and changing ingredients and techniques, I’d whittled the more complex versions of the Tartiflette into my satisfying, easy Potato Casserole.*
I make a humongous pot of this dish, having long ago gotten used to cooking casseroles on the weekends so that I would have meals ready to eat when I got home from work each night. Though I’m retired now from University, I write full-time, so I still like having meals ready for me at the end of a long working day.
I’ve halved my original amount of ingredients here in this post,** but feel free to double them if you have a large family, or halve the ingredients if you’re cooking for a smaller group.
Alexandria’s Potato Casserole
5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on
(boiled to firmness, but not crumbling), sliced into thick rounds
1 medium to large Sweet onion, diced
1-1.5 pound Jarlsberg cheese, shredded
(you can substitute any Swiss cheese, but the nuttier flavors will work best)
1-1.5 pounds bacon ends, coarsely chopped
(use thick-sliced bacon if you cannot find bacon ends and pieces)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
(substitute Half-and-Half or milk if you want to cut calories, but be aware it will taste different)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Set baking rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 400° F.
Boil the potatoes whole, with their skins on, until a knife inserts easily but before they begin to fall apart. I cook mine the day before and refrigerate the cooked potatoes to reduce assembly-time on the day I make the Casserole. If this is inconvenient, boil the potatoes as above and, when the potatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully slice them into thick rounds. Set aside.
Put the coarsely chopped bacon ends into a heavy pan and cook over a medium flame. There is no need to add any additional butter or cooking oils.
While the bacon ends are cooking, grate the Jarlsberg cheese into a separate dish and set it aside.
When the fat in the bacon ends has cooked but the meat is not yet well-done or crisp, add the diced onions. Stir well, and continue cooking until the onions just begin to become translucent.
Do not cook the bacon until crisp as it will continue to cook in the oven.
Drain the bacon ends and onion mixture, then pat with paper towels to absorb excess fat, reserving 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of the cooked fat.
Coat your empty baking dish with the cooked bacon fat by drizzling 1 t to 1 T (depending on how large a pan you’re using) into the baking pan, and spread thinly with a paper towel: this will ensure that the casserole becomes crispy. I bake my Potato Casserole in a 6-quart cast iron Dutch oven to maximize the tenderness of the potatoes and the crispiness of the outer layers of the casserole, but any baking dish will do.
Assembling the Casserole
Carefully layer potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Season with salt and pepper. Generously spoon on about ⅓ of the bacon and onion mixture. Top with approximately ⅓ of the grated cheese.
Repeat — layering potatoes, bacon & onions, grated cheese — until you have used all the ingredients, ending with grated cheese.
Carefully pour the whipping cream over the entire casserole. Do not stir.
Cover with freshly grated pepper.
Insert into oven. Bake covered for 10-15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350° F and continue baking, covered, for 60 minutes.
Remove cover and bake for 10-20 minutes, until top is browned and crispy.
Remove from oven.
With paper towels, carefully blot any bacon fat that has risen to surface (usually, there is just a bit of fat bubbling around the edges of the pan).
Spoon onto individual plates, and serve with more freshly grated pepper.
This recipe makes enough for both of us to have it for meals, lunch and dinner, for 2-3 days, so it should serve as a meal for 4-5 people, with leftovers, at the very least.
Serve with salad if desired.
Enjoy, my Lovelies.
* I had to change the name of my dish from “Tartiflette” to “Potato Casserole” because every time I asked my guy if he wanted Tartiflette, he said, “What? You mean that Potato Casserole?”
** For your convenience, in case you’re cooking for a larger group, here are the original proportions of the Potato Casserole when I make it. This version fills a 6-quart cast iron Dutch oven, and lasts two of us several days, eating it for both lunch and dinner.
10 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 large or 3 medium sweet onions
3 pounds (1 package) bacon ends and pieces
2 pounds Jarlsberg cheese
1 quart whipping cream