Never underestimate the power of béchamel

Potato Gratin

I recently tried my hand at Smitten Kitchen’s Simple Potato Gratin, since I still had SO MANY potatoes hanging around. I made a few tweaks, but pretty much followed her recipe to a ‘T’… which is odd for me. I normally consider recipes to be more guidelines to be considered than sets of rules to be followed to the letter. The flavor was amazing, but next time I’ll skip the milk step and just make a béchamel. You can never go wrong with a béchamel.

Here’s how I recently learned one cuts and cleans a leek:

– slice it once, rotate, slice again

– shake it out under the faucet to get all that leek grit out

Easy as Pie!


Clean leek


  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 large potatoes, peeled
  • 1 leek, sliced (white and light green bits only; save the greens in the freezer to use later for making stock!)
  • sliced baby portobello mushrooms
  • Sea or Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup milk, half-and-half or cream (I used 1% milk)
  • Grated or crumbled cheese! I used a lovely parmigiano reggiano and a gruyere I picked up at DiBruno’s, but you can use pretty much whatever you have on hand. Just remember, the better the cheese, the better the flavor!

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a casserole dish (or gratin dish, or shallow baking pan) with butter. Heat about 1 tbsp butter over medium-high heat (in a skillet, if you’ve got it), then add leeks and cook until they get slightly wilty. Then, add mushrooms and continue to cook until it looks something like this:

Wilty veggies

Wilty veggies

Slice the potatoes thinly and arrange in a layer in your dish, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Add a layer of the sauteed veggies and a layer of cheese. Repeat, ending with potatoes.



Pour milk (or béchamel) over the potatoes. According to the recipe, the milk should just come up to the bottom of the top layer of potatoes. Dot with butter and bake for about an hour. Take it out about halfway through and press down lightly on the potatoes to keep the top moist. For the last 15 minutes, sprinkle more cheese over the top. Continue cooking until the top is bubbly and golden brown.

I messed this one up a bit and added all the cheese to the top before the milk (oops!). It came out tasting wonderfully, but it was a bit too wet for my liking. Chalk that one up to practice. Good luck with yours!


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