As with most fantastically fast food, escalloped potatoes come from a basic recipe, this one from an old Fannie Farmer cookbook.
Fanny Farmer is dear to my heart, as growing up in Ohio, we had many candy stores (oh, the mint chocolate candy bar!) and a candy factory right up the road. But the candy has no relation to the woman, who published The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook in 1896.
Fannie Merritt Farmer became the Boston Cooking School principal in 1892. As an advocate for the science of cooking, she helped to standardize measurements in recipes, rather than the “pinch of” and “handful of,” imprecise instructions common in that era.
And, by way of clarification, there is no cheese in this type of baked potato casserole. If you’ve got cheese, you’ve got au gratin.
Anyway, it still comes down to your basic recipe and quality ingredients.
Fantastically Fast Food: Escalloped Potatoes*
6-8 Russet potatoes (buy local, if you can)
1/2 c butter
1/2 c flour
1 c milk (2%, at least) and 1/2 c half & half
secret ingredient: 1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg
Prepare a shallow casserole dish with olive oil or butter. Slice russets (one at a time, until the dish is full) thinly. I left the skins on for color and a rustic contrast. The key is to slice uniformly, so that the casserole cooks evenly.
When dish is full, prepare milk for topping: I used a cup of 2% local dairy milk (which has a higher fat content then a nationally produced chain dairy) and about 1/2 cup of half & half. (This is not the time to count calories to the nth degree – – if you’re going to do that, bake a potato and have done with it.) Warm in a sauce pan, taking care not to bring it to a boil or to scald it. You’re just taking the chill off.
Pour over casserole. Finally, and this is the fun part, if you have a little nutmeg, sprinkle it over the top with your last layer of flour, salt, and pepper. If you can, find fresh nutmeg and use a microplane. The smell and hint of spice is amazing.
Bake one hour at 350° until potatoes are fork-tender. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the sauce to settle.
Amazing. You’ll thank me later….it takes minutes to prepare, but with pure/local ingredients, its a gift from the food gods.
“Back Then” Note*: My mom used to make escalloped potatoes with 1/2″ bone-in pork chops on the top and a thin layer of apple as the very topmost layer. Thinly sliced pork enables you to bake this in about the same amount of time. If you’re a “one dish meal” person, give it a go. All you need is a salad or relish on the side.
And a little etymology:
I prefer the phrase ‘escalloped,’ not scalloped, but the http://www.freedictionary.com has a fun history for either:
“Middle English scalop, from Old French escalope, shell, perhaps of Germanic origin (akin to Dutch schelp, seashell), or from Old Frenchescale, scale; see scale1 + Old French (envel)ope, enveloping cover (from enveloper, to envelop; see envelop).]”