Food You Can Eat: Potato & Fresh Tomato Gratin

You say po-tay-to and I say po-tah-to...

Image via Yours will look slightly different.

This Tortino di Patate e Pomodori Freschi (that’s a mouthful) recipe is from the American Academy in Rome’s Rome Sustainable Food Project. They have a series of five cookbooks, and mine were issued through “The New York Review of Books”, to which I subscribe. High Culture oozes from my every pore.

This looks a little daunting but it doesn’t require technique, just some patience.

What you’ll need: 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO—Rachael Ray, get out of my head)

2 cups peeled and thinly sliced yellow onions. This is 2 medium onions, approx.

8 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4” slices, which you will keep in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning

10 large ripe and firm Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/8” slices. Yeah, this is fun.

10 chopped thyme sprigs

2oz./ 3/4 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The fine folks at the Academy love Grana Padano, it shows up in lots of their recipes, but you’re much more likely to bump into Parmigiano-Reggiano at your local supermarket. If you want to order Grana Padano go right ahead; it’s not much more expensive than P-R.

2 cups chicken broth. This, presumably, you have made yourself. It is covered in their meat cookbook Carne; this recipe is from the vegetables volume, Verdure. Use whatever.

What you’ll do:

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.

Put the olive oil in a sauté pan and “sweat” the onions. This means you put them over a slightly lower heat and they turn translucent but do not brown, as they would if you sautéed them. Add the thyme. “Season” the potatoes and tomatoes separately. The term “season” also shows up a lot in their recipes but it’s not clearly defined. I take this to mean, “Add a little salt.”

In a 9 X 13 baking dish (here again the Academy is a little vague. Sometimes recipes specify glass; sometimes recipes specify that you don’t use glass. I guess this works for either variety. I use a glass one) add the onions and make a smooth bottom layer. Then add the potatoes, the tomatoes, and the cheese, alternating in thin layers, so don’t double up the ingredients, and finish with a top layer of potatoes. Pour the chicken broth over the whole thing, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and pop it into the oven for an hour. 

But wait, there’s more. After about 30 minutes start checking on the potatoes with a knife. Do this once or twice. After an hour they should feel softened.

Here’s the fun part. Remove from the oven, uncover, and press down with a spatula all over. This brings the juices to the top. This is a handy technique to keep in mind. Put it back in the oven (uncovered) and, every 15 minutes, do the spatula-pressing-down maneuver, until the top is a golden brown, which takes about an hour. This will be very hot so let it cool before you serve. 

Does this make for good leftovers? Oh yes, within reason. I wouldn’t freeze it though, because I think efforts to resuscitate it would fail. Being an Italian recipe and the cookbooks a product of Italy nowhere are leftovers mentioned; that is not the Italian way. Have you ever seen an Italian refrigerator? Large ones must exist but they’re usually much smaller than ours and the concept of “losing” food by it disappearing somewhere unseen in the fridge must be quite alien to them.

This just in: While searching somewhat in vain for a header image I learned that Julia Child has a recipe for this, but hers is Provençal. Of course Julia Child has a recipe for this and it would be Provençal. Time to crack open one of my JC cookbooks and pass along one of her recipes; I haven’t done that in a while.



    • There is a lot of chopping involved but I find that oddly soothing. A mandoline comes in handy, except (I found) for the tomatoes, which turned into a pulpy mess. To help myself out I got the tomatoes as cold as I could without freezing them so that firmed things up somewhat. 

  1. Yum, this looks appetising. I clicked through just to leave this comment. 
    I may actually attempt this on a colder evening. 
    And, throwdown alert: The London Review of Books outfoxes NYRB any day.  

    • I subscribe to that too! I get at least an email a week from them, and currently they’re running this series where twice a week they pull from their archives and make an old article available to all. I think that’s time sensitive so you kind of have to jump on it when it arrives in your inbox.

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