Artichoke potato gratin

A friend recently introduced me as a chef to another guest at her child’s birthday party.

Nope, I said. I’m not a chef.

Perhaps it was not very gracious of me to point out the mistake in that situation, but if I introduced someone as a computer programmer and they actually work as a “cast member” at Disneyland, I’d expect to be corrected.

I understand that to many people the label “chef” is one of respect – more a way to denote the (high!) quality of my cooking than to describe my job – but to me a chef cooks for strangers. I can think of few things I’d rather less do than work in a restaurant kitchen. I like the quiet of my kitchen. I like the alone-time I get in there. I like cooking for grateful family and friends; people who would never think of sending something back.

While in no way a chef, I am an extremely accomplished professional cook (though I say it myself, as my grandmother used to say). I know that just because something is “easy” for me in the kitchen does not mean it will be so for everyone.

Yesterday I was reminded that there is a reason we hadn’t had this gratin in a long time even though it is so very delicious. The reason is that it is a total pain in the ass to make. It involves the cleaning of artichokes – paring down these mighty thorned thistles into tender, sweet hearts. I’ve done it before, many times, and I work quickly. It took me 20-plus minutes to turn five large artichokes into a pile of slivered hearts floating in acidolated water, ready to layer into the gratin. I don’t want to think about how long it might take less practiced hands (or how quickly a true chef might turn those puppies around).

Artichoke potato gratin

Cleaning the artichokes is a pain, but this gratin is tasty. We eat it as a main dish with a salad, but you could serve it alongside a nice roast chicken or grilled salmon.

4 or 5 large artichokes

6 large Yukon Gold potatoes or medium Russet potatoes

2 Tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

2 cups grated cheese – I like to use sheep milk cheeses like Pecorino or Petit Basque, but Parmesan or gruyere work great, too

1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400.

First things first, you really do need to turn those artichokes into artichoke hearts (lucky for you, I took those pictures!). Very thinly slice each heart. Keep them from browning too much by putting them in a bowl of cool water to which you have added lemon juice or vinegar.

Now peel the potatoes and slice them all very thinly. Fun!

Rub a 9×13 (or similar) baking dish or gratin pan with 1 Tablespoon of the butter. Arrange a single layer of heavily overlapping potato slices. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Spread half of the artichoke heart slices (patted dry) over the potatoes.

Add another single layer of potatoes. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Layer another group of potato slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the remaining artichoke heart slices. Next, add a final layer of potatoes – these will be on top so make it pretty!

Now gently spoon the chicken broth over the dish. Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper, cover with foil, and bake until just tender, about 40 minutes.

Uncover, sprinkle on remaining cheese, dot the whole thing with the remaining tablespoon of butter, and bake until completely tender, bubbling, and brown – about 20 more minutes. If you can stand it, let the gratin sit for about 10 minutes before you cut into it.