G…uest #21: Le vrai Gratin Dauphinois

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Osyth PicPlease meet the beautiful Osyth @ Half Baked In Paradise 
It was the delectable Dolly of Kool Kosher Kitchen who unwittingly introduced me to lovely Esmé who, it is entirely possible, may be deluded when one considers her rash invitation to me to guest on her, till now,  beauteous blog.  Anyhow, since Dolly is at the heart of this hopefully happy matter, I felt it appropriate to dig up a little history pertinent to a dish that I hope you will try. If you don’t know Dolly – where have you been?  She is, as her name implies a total doll and a very witty and smart one at that – honestly … go visit, you’ll love her.  So here goes …..

Osyth

The very first walk I ever took in Grenoble was a tentative totter up to le Bastille which sits some 400 metres above the city.  I casually strolled up through le Jardins de Dauphines and found myself facing Philis.  Philis is rather arresting in a slightly aggressive warrior sort of way poised casually astride her rearing steed brandishing one-handed some sort of lethal rapierClearly this is a woman to laugh in the face of weak-minded affectations of femininity like sitting side-saddle or wearing frocks and who would not shirk from skewering all comers with her dirk.  In fairness and for the aforementioned reasons, I did not instantly realise she is a she, portrayed as she is as a rather masculine, if a little foppishly dressed fighter. Of course, mens’ fashions were, a little frou frou in 17th Century France. I inched closer and it was clear that I was, indeed, beholding a gallant gal.

Osyth Statue
Philis is a legend.  We all know what legends are, I hope.  Legends are stories that are so old that no one can remember if they are true or not.  Keep that front of  mind as we sashay elegantly forward.  Philis was born  Philippe de la Tour du Pin de la Charce in 1645, the fifth child of high falootin’ tootin’ parents – hardly a surprise given the full mouthful of a name they blithely gave their infant.  At the age of six her Aunt, a poet of some acclaim, took her to watch a series of Roman plays in Nyon and SO amazed was the girl named Phil that she promptly declared she was changing her name that very minute to the entirely Roman Philis.  Which, let’s face facts was probably just a clever ruse to get a more girlie name.  However, it became clear that she had no intention of being a damsel, even though her newly acquired  name was a little less … manly, more maidenly.  She  competed brilliantly with her brothers  and became a breathtaking horsewoman and dashing blade wielder.  She fell in love with a Catholic, became betrothed when he promised to convert to the Protestant version of exactly the same faith as his but, a little  caddishly one might observe, he reneged on his pledge.  She then did what any self-respecting jilted girl might resolve to do … she became an even better horsewoman and an even greater blade and vowed that she would not so much as look at another man except down on him from high on her hot-blooded stallion.

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This area of France is historically named le Dauphiné which means ‘dolphin’ and accounts for the fact that though we are 275km (170 miles) from our nearest coastline,  there are an awful lot of dolphin references around the city.   Forward to  1690 and enter stage right or left depending whether you are facing North or South, Victor Amedée II. You are absolved of any guilt for not remotely realising there was a Victor Amedée I, even though it actually turns out that, in fact there was also a further Victor Amedée imaginatively named  Victor Amedée III.  Victor’s correct title was Victor Amedée Duc de Savoie.  Savoie was next door to le Dauphiné (it still is) but he had absolutely no intention of being an affable neighbour.  He far preferred the idea of snatching the Dauphiné lands to add to his already bulging, to the point of vulgar, property portfolio.  According to her legend, Philis organised a résistance and heading an army of peasants she successfully saved her region from the marauding Victor.   The rather mealy-mouthed scolars who variously argued the story for over 100 years,  claim she simply fronted a band of looters who often came here “to collect contributions from citizens of local towns and villages” and that it was thanks to her relations with the French Royal Court in Paris that she was ever rewarded with a pension from King Louis XIV.  Whichever version you choose, by the 19th Century her myth had mushroomed and for a while she was called Jean d’Arc du Dauphiné.  Several historians have muted her laurels but she is still proudly acclaimed Heroine de Dauphine on her statue.  I know which version I prefer.

And as this guest piece is being written for a cookery blog I thought it only fitting that I give you an appropriate recipe: Le vrai Gratin Dauphinois.  You will kindly notice that a real Gratin Dauphinois has no cheese in it even though it is said that Escoffier experimented and was rumoured to occasionally add a little.  Like a Quiche Lorraine, here in this Gratin’s spiritual home, the real deal has no cheese and that is how I infinitely prefer it.   If you doubt me, give it a try – I promise it is a sumptuous experience that belies its meager list of ingredients.

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Ingredients:
Potatoes – not waxy new ones.  King Edwards are perfect
Double cream or Crême Fraiche – you can dilute with milk if you prefer.   I don’t prefer.
Garlic
Freshly ground nutmeg
Butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt – if your butter is unsalted
Method:

  1.  Preheat oven to 150C
  2. Butter a shallow but not too shallow oven-proof dish
  3. Peel (reserve the peelings) enough potatoes to fill the dish when thinly sliced
  4. Rub with a cut clove of garlic
  5. Peel, chop and smoosh the garlic
  6. Slice potatoes into slender rounds – some use a mandolin, I don’t have one so I just keep them as thin as I can without adding slivers of finger – never elegant
  7. Layer the potatoes with a sprinkling of garlic, grated nutmeg and ground pepper
  8. Repeat til all the potatoes are used – three layers for my dish
  9. Dot with butter (mine has salt crystals so I don’t add salt)
  10. Drench it in cream – I used 50cl
  11. Bake for 2½ hours until bubbling, unctuous and smelling like your life depends on eating it.  In fairness, your life WILL be incomplete if you don’t.

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I served ours with green beans and Diot.  Diots are a traditional Savoyard sausage.  I apologise for being unable to resist the irony …

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PS:  Eat only fruit for many days afterwards as a penance for the ambrosial decadence of the dish and to notionally save the impending blockade in your arteries.  But not before you have triumphantly taken up the saved peelings, coated them in a little oil of choice (always olive chez moi) and a good grind of black pepper.  Or frankly whatever you like to season them, who am I to dictate to you?  Pop them in a highish oven for 10 minutes.  Recline on sofa or chaise longue and idly nibble as a little snackette with your choice of libation.

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You can also follow Osyth via:
Twitter: @MeHalfBaked
Facebook: Osyth
Instagram: Half Baked Me
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187 thoughts on “G…uest #21: Le vrai Gratin Dauphinois”

  1. First lets just say it out loud – – I want a name like hers, Philippe de la Tour du Pin de la Charce , doesn’t seem fair, I am not sure this is going to be correct, but I like it – Katherine de la Tour de Ghent les États-Unis d’Amérique !! Even though my real name is only Kathy, I must have the full name, just rings the bell…LOL okay now that I feel regal, or perhaps even more rebelish, LOL
    as I read your recipe I could smell it in my mum’s oven, she made this, without the garlic, but always heavy cream and butter, and no cheese ever !! She made this for us as children. Now that I am older I understand the simplicity of it as she was a house wife always cooking a full dinner for daddy and all of us hooligans. It certainly is a delicious dish, and now that you have cleared my cobwebs, I will be using it for my German along with his hunk of meat…LOL Thank you and what a lovey honor to be a guest blogger !! Hope alls well on your side of the world…xxkat

    Reply
  2. Oohhh great to see Osyth’s other self…i mean i knew she’s a fantastic writer and lover of literature and arts and places…but i didn’t realize she could provide us with such a delictable recipe.
    P.s.
    I live in the Philippines where people eat rice three times a day..but i don’t. I love pasta, bread and anything potato..so having said that thank you Dear Osyth this is another addition to my very few potato dishes…

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  3. I met a woman called ‘de la Tour du Pin’ many years ago. I understood vaguely that a name like that meant a certain background, but was astounded when I later passed the town of the same name on the highway and understood the full significance of her heritage. Pleased to meet this cast of characters, the delightful Recipe Hunter blog and to make the acquaintance of the true gratin Dauphinois! Thanks for the introductions, Osyth!

    Reply
    • Thank you for visiting and your kind words. Should you wish to participate in sharing a post here with us just drop me a note and I will get back to you. As I am out of country, I may not respond immediately but I will. Hope to hear from you and share a post for you as well.

      Reply
    • Yes, very high born heritage. When I was a child I wanted nothing more than to marry a bloke (he would have had to have been Scottish) who was ‘of that ilk’ … I should write about what happened some day. I think being de somewhere or other is the French equivalent. Glad you enjoyed Philis and double glad you liked Recipe Hunter. Its a veritable feast x

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  4. With today’s post Osyth you have now become a legend yourself – look forward to seeing the statue. In the meantime, as a lifelong potato lover can’t wait to pop that oven-proof dish in the oven and nibble on those peels. I’ll let you know how they all turn out. Merci mon ami 🙂

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  5. Oh, this is such an awesome post! It´s got everything in it what I adore: history (I just love the story of Philis!!! What a woman she was! No, what a heroine indeed!) and good food! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe – I WILL try it out (not this weekend though as it is planned to indulge oneself with lots and lots of yummy shrimps as a farewell to summer 😉 ) but definitely the next! xxxxxxxxxxx

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  6. I’ll tell you what I do as a variant. I mix the spud, cream etc in a big bowl, add Parma ham cut into thin strips and a lot of parmesan, spread the lot out on a baking sheet and cook in a hot oven until crispy on the top. You don’t need anything else with it except a green salad.

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  7. This valiant female fighter was predestinated for sure, because never did I hear of a girl named Philippe by her parents, it’s like a girl named William in England ! But I discovered just now it has been used,as such, rarely, until the early XVIIth century . Thank you for teaching me a French thing I didn’t know … But you’re a naughty girl, you misspelt “Jeanne d’Arc” . Jean is a boy’s name in French, you must know it after such a long time ! OK Jehanne (old spelling) was rather manly in her actions, but at least she had a girl’s name since birth .

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              • Thanks to my son and others like him who work for the same electronic translation firm. However, when Mr Google spews out something ridiculous, I forward it to my son with a comment, “It’s all your fault!”

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                • Actually one of my favourite solitaire games is to take a piece of script (say The Three Little Pigs) … translate it using the translator into whatever language, then into another and then back to English – guaranteed to raise a smile! Very interested in your son’s work. You are a family of linguist I think 🙂

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                    • I am convinced that the two go hand in hand … however my flautist niece who spent 9 months at the Pasteur Institut in Paris as part of her Masters (she has been in Australia since she was 8 years old) would disagree. She struggled, poor child. But she then told me her Supervisor was from Auvergne (the region that I call home) and it all fell into place … the accent is deeply impenetrable. Your mother, I think had a great and lasting influence on her flock

                    • Your niece would be correct. Music and mathematics go together, in terms of multiple intelligences. Linguistic intelligence sometimes coincides, but so do the rest of them – pure coincidence.
                      That being said, I hate math because, while in middle school, I was being pushed into algebra olympiads which was taking time away from preparing for piano competitions. My granddaughter feels the same way: math takes time away from voice lessons and choir rehearsals.

                    • I made a decision lying out in my pram under the magnolia that since my brother was good at maths I was best off focussing on words since it was futile to compete. We both enjoyed music playing in Orchestra and the District silver band and my younger brother joined us on trombone but I don’t think we were ever going to win awards. He was hopeless at French so I employed the same method as I had in the pram and got good at it. I took Russian as a second language actually. He speaks fluent German after living there for a few years. When he bothered he got good but it was a matter of needs must and devils driving I think :)Your grand-daughter, in my humblest opinon, and you, have the right priorities 🙂

                    • Part of growing up in Odessa was taking music lessons since very early age. You’ll read about it in Babel’s Odessa Stories. All boys played violin, all girls played piano; it was an unbreakable rule. When my father (may he rest in peace) went to Boston for my granddaughter’s 5th birthday and found out that a) she wasn’t taking music lessons yet, and b) there wasn’t even a piano in the house, but a measly keyboard, he called me, enraged,”What kind of a grandmother are you?” As you would imagine, I told my son to get a piano pronto and sent him a check. She had a good Russian piano teacher, of course! 😼

  8. This sounds like the perfect winter comfort food.
    Just as my husband insisted that fettuccine carbonara must made with béchamel, he was thrilled when I made it with raw eggs and pasta water–until I told him. I am sure he would complain if I didn’t cover this with cheese, but it sounds so rich that he might actually think it’s in there, unless I confess, which I won’t do, having learned my lesson.
    Also, what a joy to discover such a bon vivant cooking blog!

    Reply
    • Isn’t it a wonderful blog? I love it … and Esmé is just a wonder. If you fancy guesting for her I am sure she would snap you up … yours is lovely blog. Now. Top tip. If you use crême fraiche I’m willing to bet hubby wouldn’t notice … you get that slight twang which isn’t present with crême entire. I hope you try it and I look forward to hearing the cheesy carnivore’s verdict 😉

      Reply
  9. What a fabulous, delightful post! Dear Osyth, you have outdone yourself, and Esme, aren’t you simply thrilled to have had Osyth as a contributor!
    I’ve heard of Philis, but in a different context, from the Savoy side, where her army is called “a band of marauders.” Now I know the true story – much appreciated!
    I thank you so much, Osyth, for a glowing introduction; you can see me blushing all over the Internet!
    Reblogging this post, of course, and sending much love to both of you, ladies! 😸

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    • Dolly I am beyond delighted that you enjoyed it because I genuinely dedicated it to you. But double delight! You know Philis! How funny that she is known as a bandit by the Savoyards. Personally, I am convinced that the mealy-mouthed historians are also for Savoie! I have now discovered that there is a Philis Appreciation Society in the City … guess who their latest member is? 🙂

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      • And what does the society do,I wonder, in addition to mutual admiration?
        Anyway, as you may have noticed, I am infatuated with Northern Italy, and Torino is right next door to Milano, where I used to go for the opening of the opera season quite often. I am truly grateful to you for this morsel of history viewed for the opposite side. And, of course, I adore your style! 😸

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        • Let’s make a date to meet in Northern Italy … I can think of no-where more delightful. Milano for the opening of the season – now that, my friend is class! Not a clue what the Philis society do … maybe we get to polish the statue!!

          Reply
          • It’s not class, ma cherie; it’s called opera fanaticism.
            As to polishing statues, let’s not go there! In Leningrad (St Petersburg, that is), there are bronze horses on Anichkov bridge. It is considered good luck for students to rub the horses’ nether equipment for good luck before final exams, Since the tradition goes back a couple of centuries, you can visualize the grudging Baltic sun brightly reflecting off highly polished globes. I’ve heard a similar story about Henry IV statue on Pont Neuf in Paris (the horse’s equipment is polished, not the king’s, although his was quite remarkable, if one believes legends).

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            • Tittering discretely to self at the reference to Henry IV’s tackle. In Moscow they polish the nose of a night watchman’s dog in one or other of the metro stations (I found it irresistible) …. opera fanatics are always welcome – it surely is the closest we get to Heaven on earth. I think.

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                  • (with a perfectly straight face): Odessa is a cradle of humor in the same way as Florence is a cradle of Renaissance. But seriously, that’s where Ovid wrote “Metamorphosis” – in Odessa, not in Firenze, that is.

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                    • Oh I rather think it is given the story you told 🙂 Odessa has reason to be proud simply for that fact. Don’t take my mind to Firenze too … I’m in danger of a wishful overload!

                    • You don’t have to go to the library: prevalent majority of famous Russian writers and poets of the 20’s and 30’s were from Odessa, and I am sure you know the names but have not realized the Odessa connection. Odessa Opera House is considered the most beautiful in Europe, with Vienna Opera being a slightly smaller copy. Russian violin school (Stolyarsky school) was born in Odessa, and those famous violinists who hadn’t actually studied there, still pride themselves on “Odessa sound” (Itzhak Perlman, for instance). I better stop here!

                    • I had not made the connection … so I have many Odessan works on my book-case then 🙂 Itzhak Perlman is quite a hero of mine. I am amazed. I still better take a deeper look. I don’t like this gap in my knowledge … it is really appalling 🙂

                    • Oh but I just long to be an endless vacuum taking up every minute grain of knowledge. By the time I have the time the grey cells will be too matted!

                    • It is. My youngest graduated Fine Arts this summer … I was in awe of the work she and her peers had put into their degree exhibitions – absolutely stunning. The world would be a dull and poor place without art and music and literature. In fact I couldn’t imagine that I would be able to live without them.

                    • She’s a painter mostly … she works in oils and watercolours and also with painted and embroidered photographs. She did a fantastic piece for her degree which involved instant polaroids of her own body – very close up parts so that it was not about a whole but rather focussing on what we see as our imperfections – and the bodies of various friends focussing on their deepest insecurities. She then set about embroidering the scars, the warts, the wrinkles (I contributed myself for that one 😉 ) the stretch marks, the blemishes, the supposed imperfections. The results were incredibily moving. Then she added them to an installation which involved her sitting on the bed in a replica of her teenage bedroom and inviting people to talk to her. She filmed these on Super 8 and played it on loop repeat with a soundtrack of Antony and the Johnsons ‘You Are My Sister’ (if you don’t know him, he is worth checking out … an extraordinary human who was born in a different kind of body). It was incredibly moving particularly for those of us who know that she is cripplingly shy and a card carrying feminist who has campaigned since her early teens to stop the ridiculous body images that are pedalled by the fashion and music and film industries. Proud mama (as you can probably tell)

                    • Dolly it was. This influenced her greatly when she was younger and she had always wanted to be brave enough to put herself in that vulnerable position. You of all people with all the young you have nurtured and given the tools to be courageous will understand how wonderful it was to see her take the risk. Take a look at this video on YouTube:
                      http://youtu.be/mEcqoqvlxPY
                      Hugs

                    • I was going to ask whether you taped it! It’s to not accessible to me, though, and I would love to see it. My understanding is that she put herself into a self-created gestalt which extracted her out of her shell. It certainly took not only amazing creativity and imagination, but also true courage!
                      Now, how can I see that video?

  10. I would like to believe that the legend of Philis was true. That she did look down a fine aquiline nose upon men – from atop her magnificent ride. Escoffier. That man’s story fascinates me…Anyway I think the best Gratin Dauphinois I have had so far was in Brussels. I cannot wait to try my hand at this recipe of yours though in a while – after I have gathered sufficient courage to bring on the double cream. My arteries are clogged up with the previous butter-and-cream laden weekend 😀 xx

    Reply

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