First, Happy New Year! We had a great holiday season – Kara home for a few weeks, a quick trip to Scotland, friends over for Christmas dinner, several successful shopping excursions, and we even watched our neighborhood New Year’s fireworks with Janessa’s kids in Colorado via the iPad and Skype.
I also made a haul in big beautiful reference cookbooks (the girls know me well)! Janessa gave me the new Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook with 2,000 recipes from 20 years’ worth of the magazine, and I really like the format, with each recipe preceded by a “Why it Works” explanation of the recipe refinement process at America’s Test Kitchen – I’ve tried several recipes already, and they’ve been really good. Kara’s gift is The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. By Amanda Hesser, the book draws from the last 150 years’ Times archives, and the recipes include cooking notes, serving suggestions cross-referenced to other recipes with their page numbers, and period details (that feature is just right for a social history nerd like me).
Today’s recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, and I followed it fairly closely. However, I recently came across another scalloped potato recipe that included sauerkraut; although I’m not crazy about sauerkraut, I was intrigued by the idea. I do like fresh cabbage, so I decided to add some to the scalloped potato recipe. I also reduced the onion somewhat, omitted the garlic and cheese, and substituted dried marjoram for fresh thyme and vegetable stock for chicken broth. The only other change was in the ratio of cream and broth – instead of the cup of heavy cream called for in the original recipe, I had some little bottles of Kaffeesahne (10%, which I think is about like half and half) that I wanted to empty so I could use the bottles for another project. The three bottles yielded about 1¼ cups of cream, and I topped off the 2-cup measure with about ¾ cup vegetable stock. If you prefer, you can switch to heavy cream for an even richer flavor or cut it back some with lower-fat milk to save a few calories.
The “Why it Works” preface recommends Russet potatoes, which, as a native of Grant County, WA (the leading potato-producing county in the country), I truly love. Unfortunately, russets are not too common in Germany, so I used a medium-starch white potato and it worked just fine. The suggested technique of simmering the potato slices in the cream and broth mixture before baking does result in an extra pan to wash, but don’t let that scare you off – the recipe is fast and easy and makes the best scalloped potatoes ever, with tender potato slices in a just-right consistency sauce and a perfectly browned top (even without the cheese).
Scalloped Potatoes and Cabbage
Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ small onion, minced
- ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper (plus more to grind on top)
- 6 small potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin (1/8 inch)
- ¼ of a small head of cabbage, cut into short shreds (about 3 cups)
- 1¼ cups light cream
- ¾ cup vegetable stock (you could swap out part of this for white wine)
- 2 bay leaves
- Shredded cheese for topping, if desired (recipe suggests 1 cup cheddar)
Melt the butter in a 3-quart or larger saucepan and cook the onion for about five minutes, until it is tender and starting to brown (sprinkle in the marjoram, salt, and pepper during the last minute or so). Add the rest of the ingredients except the cheese and heat until simmering. Reduce heat to low and simmer with a lid on for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 F. while the mixture is simmering.
When the potatoes are barely starting to get tender, pour the mixture into a greased 1½ quart baking dish (a fairly deep 8 x 8 pan will work) and spread evenly. Sprinkle cheese over the top if desired. Bake on the middle rack until it is golden on top and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Let rest a few minutes to thicken the sauce before serving.
Leftovers: this was just as good warmed up the next day – I stored the potatoes in the covered baking dish, kick-started them in the microwave to chase away the chill, and then finished warming (covered) in the oven with the rest of our dinner. After the potatoes’ second appearance, there was still about 2/3 of a cup left, so I added some milk and vegetable broth and whizzed it around with the immersion blender. I’ll take potato soup for lunch!