One day, when you least expect it, you might walk into a fine dining establishment and fall in love. It happened to me.
There I was, expecting a nice meal, good company and nothing more. The usual suspects were present: Favorite people and all the trappings of a place where you don’t have to struggle with greasy fingers and a ketchup packet. After a dainty glass of wine and some conversation, I found before me a plate of artfully arranged tenderloin medallions, sprigs of pencil-thin asparagus and what looked like ordinary scalloped potatoes. I took one nonchalant taste of the latter dish, and KAPOW, there was no turning back.
People. These were no ordinary scalloped potatoes.
Let me say here and now, I can’t believe I’m devoting an entire column to a potato experience. I don’t consider myself a foodie, especially when family life gets busy. Sometimes, as the dinner hour approaches, my expletive rolodex spins out of control. I say to myself, “Blankety blank. Why does everybody in this house get hungry every single evening? I just fed them yesterday.”
Most of the time, I’m all about short cuts and freezer diving: “Hey guys, what’ll it be? Stouffer’s tartare, or Mrs. Paul’s au poivre?”
But then one day, out of nowhere, I find myself swooning over spuds. Unbelievable.
Despite it all, even a Zagat rube like me can tell the difference between extruded taters mixed with cream of chicken soup and recently unearthed Yukon Gold baked to a subtle al dente perfection in…what? What exactly were the magical ingredients?
I had to know. I just had to know the chef’s secret. All conversations swirling around me turned to background noise. I took more bites. The dish was heavenly. I knew if I could confirm the cheeses involved, my cooking repertoire would take a new direction. Was that Swiss I tasted? Probably. But I knew there was more, much more than one cheese.
It was time to break a rule and go full-out CSI. Love can do that to a person. My husband has always had a thing for potatoes, and suddenly, apparently, I did too. I had to make this dish at home. They say a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In this case, cholesterol would clearly be en route to my guy’s ticker as well, but still.
I flagged down the waiter and whispered, “Would you mind asking the chef what cheeses he used in the scalloped potatoes?” There might have been a flinch in the waiter’s face, but I didn’t care. My oven back home was already pre-heating in my mind. I was going to make this dish.
The waiter kindly, discretely reported back to me, “Swiss and parmesan.” Then, he took off like a thief in the night.
I suppose at this point you’d like a special scalloped potato recipe. You are, after all, holding a lifestyle magazine in your hands and patiently tolerating this odd tale of passion. Here it is: Simply search online for “scalloped potato/Swiss/parmesan.” That’s it. If you can momentarily block out your cardiologist’s face, you’ll find some nice choices. I picked one that also included heavy cream and garlic. Worked like a charm.
Funny. I’ve always known the French call potatoes “pommes de terre,” which translates to “apples of the earth.” But now I understand why.