JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Friday, August 24, 2007

Duck and delicious potatoes

Not much blogging going on here ... I've felt daunted by the weight of photographs which need sorting out since we got back from holiday, and also I haven't felt much like cooking. They don't much care for eating here - well, they don't really notice what they eat, unless it's pointed out to them, and then they're polite. So this evening, they were very polite, as they know I took a few pains with dinner. But then, before the last mouthful is eaten ... they switch on the radio to hear the latest on the cricket. Do I feel demoralised? Well, yes, on one level. But on another ... ladies and gentlemen, I give you ....

Duck and delicious potatoes. This is for 4 (both the girls are away)

Potato gratin with thyme and tomato

The potatoes are cooked in the oven, and they don't have any liquid or anything to cover them. I was panicking that they would dry out, the top layer would curl up and they would taste disgusting and dry. But no ... this is a piece of magic, a potato gratin dish with no calorific / fatty sauce, just the fresh and vibrant taste of its
four (yes, four) ingredients.

This recipe is adapted (that is to say, I forgot the main flavouring ingredient!) from a book I bought in the Oxfam shop in the Turl, Oxford, this afternoon, Under the Sun, by Caroline Conran. You know how they say most recipe books are kept for only one recipe? This is it - the rest is in every French cookery book I already own (lots and lots!). Just bear in mind that I left out the juniper.

450g onions
450g tomatoes
700g potatoes
1 large sprig of thyme
(6 juniper berries)
olive oil

Peel and slice the onions, and sweat them slowly in olive oil for about half an hour, until they are soft and just starting to turn golden. This should take 20-30 minutes.

When the onions are nearly cooked, peel the potatoes, and slice them very thinly, preferably with a mandolin (I bought one earlier this year, and although I don't use it very often, when I do use it, nothing else will do - and it's opened up a whole new avenue of cookery that was previously unavailable to me because I couldn't/couldn't be bothered to prepare food so meticulously. Mix them well in a little olive oil. Salt, too, if you use it.

Tomatoes - I used some of the tomatoes I've been slow roasting for the last week, just snipped a few into the layers. If you haven't been doing this (and I wouldn't blame you in the least, although it's pretty effortless and very delicious), then slice some tomatoes thickly and soften them in a frying pan with a little olive oil.

Layer the vegetables, starting and ending with potatoes, and snipping some thyme into the mix. Caroline Conran says to put a bay leaf in, but it didn't add any flavour, and just had to be fished out of the finished dish, so I wouldn't bother next time. (Btw, the bay is the green thing in the photograph that looks as if it might be a mange tout pea that's been accidentally dropped onto the wrong dish.) I forgot to put in the juniper (crushed in a mortar), and I plan to do that next time (Sunday, when we're 10 for dinner ... this was a dry run, because I panicked unnecessarily about the lack of liquid).

Put this, uncovered (see why I panicked?) in a moderate oven, ie 170C / gas mark 3 for one hour.

Duck ... grilled duck, because this is my one and only entry for Heart of the Matter's August theme - grilling - which ends today, and which I am rounding up. You should see my face, very red and embarrassed ... I've been away, it's been raining, I don't really do grilling (I know, Ilva was shocked, too!).

This is a way to render most of the fat off a duck breast, so that you can eat it even if you are following a low cholesterol diet. Just try very hard not to eat the skin, even though it no longer has much fat.

Heat a griddle pan until it's nearly smoking. Put your duck breasts on it skin side down. Cook them for 10 minutes without turning, pouring off the fat which is rendered once or twice during cooking (otherwise you'll have a nasty mess all over your cooker). When the 10 minutes are up, turn the breasts, then put them in a hot oven for eight minutes. Then take them out of the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

In the meantime make a sauce. This one's good: mix 2 tbsp olive oil with 2 tbsp hoi sin and 1 tbsp honey, together with a splash of Marsala or Madeira.

Serve on hot plates. We had a beetroot salad with this ... made with those precooked vacuum-wrapped beets, dressed in olive oil, wine vinegar and plenty of Maldon salt.

This is my entry for HotM, the round-up will appear in the next few days - and then I promise I'll make every single one of the entries as long as the sunshine holds out before winter sets in.


Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Joanna, the idea of a potato gratin that doesn't harden your arteries before you even swallow the first bite is divine! What a great recipe to have, and I love the idea of it with the grilled duck! Thank you.

Joanna said...

Amanda, You're so right. I'm thrilled to have found this, I've missed making a gratin, and this one's a real find even if you're not thinking about arteries, calories etc ... AND it's delicious! I'm now wondering whether to make one large or two smaller ones for Sunday, when there's rather a lot of us ...


Anonymous said...

The potato dish definitely sounds like a keeper Joanna

I must admit I'm still too scared to buy a mandolin even though I know it would probably be really useful (especially with all of those big winter root vegetables coming up). Did you buy one with a safety guard?

Ilva said...

This was definitely worth waiting for Joanna!

Cottage Smallholder said...

The potatoes look wonderful, Joanna. Thanks for a great blog - I have given you two awards

Joanna said...

Sophie - I was the same, but now I've got one, I use it quite a lot. It's got a guard, which is good, because otherwise I'd be slicing my fingers. I've just used to to quickly slice 2kg of onions for a huge pissaladiere - much faster than I would have done it with my knife, and much much thinner.

Ilva, thank you for your support, especially when I don't feel as if I deserve it!

Fiona - I'm overwhelmed: THANK YOU. And DO try the potatoes!


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I have to try the potatoes - that looks fabulous! I've never done any duck, yours looks divine.