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Cheesy potatoes add balance to ham dinner

Cheese sauce is spooned over scalloped potatoes. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 2
Layers are visible in three-cheese scalloped potatoes for Easter dinner. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO—Ham is a longstanding tradition at our Easter dinner table, and several years ago we shared a recipe from my great-grandmother called GooGoo's Baked Easter Ham. This week's rich and creamy Three Cheese Scalloped Potatoes are the perfect side dish to complement the salty-sweetness of a baked ham, and they are so delicious that I bet you won't wait until next Easter to serve them again.

Scalloped potatoes are a wonderful casserole-style side dish made with a combination of thinly sliced potatoes and cream and, often, some variety of onion for flavor. Some folks might argue that when cheese is added, the potatoes are no longer scalloped, but rather, au gratin. We're just not that fussy when it comes to our food, so we're adding three different cheeses to these scalloped potatoes: white cheddar, gruyere and a touch of parmesan.

The key to great scalloped potatoes is to slice the potatoes as uniformly as possible, as this will help ensure that they cook evenly as they bake. Potato varieties like Russet or Yukon Gold work the best for scalloped dishes, as their high-starch content helps the cream thicken into velvety smoothness. We use Russets for this dish, as they have more starch, which creates a creamier sauce, but Yukon Golds will hold their shape better.

When slicing the potatoes, strive for a thickness of one-eighth of an inch. We highly recommend using a mandolin food slicer or food processor with slicing attachment for this task, as these tools will slice the potatoes lightning fast, and ensure that each slice is of equal thickness.

Our scalloped potatoes get their richness from a wonderful sauce made with cream, milk, butter, flour, herbs, spices and cheese. The sliced potatoes are placed in layers in a two-quart baking dish and each layer is topped with the cheese sauce.

For added flavor and a touch of spring, we add a layer of thinly sliced shallots and fresh chives atop each layer of potatoes.

For efficient timing, get everything in place before you begin making the casserole, and use a slicing tool for the potatoes and shallots to expedite the process. If you do this, it should only take about 20 to 25 minutes to make and assemble these scalloped potatoes.

Once assembled, the casserole bakes in the oven for about 80 to 90 minutes, first covered, then uncovered, until the cheese is golden brown and the potatoes are fork-tender.

For advance prep, you could make this dish the night before serving and pre-bake it, just through the covered bake time, then refrigerate it overnight and finish baking it, uncovered, the next day. You could also microwave the sliced, raw potatoes for 10 minutes on high before assembling the dish, which will cut down on baking time by about 30 minutes.

Our Three Cheese Scalloped Potatoes are easy to make, creamy and delicious and always a hit at our table. We hope you enjoy them, too. Happy Easter!

Three-Cheese Scalloped Potatoes

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

2 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 1/8-inch thick

2 shallots, thinly sliced

¼ cup fresh chives, finely chopped

Kosher salt

Black pepper, freshly ground

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground mustard

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon paprika

2 cups whole milk (or 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup milk)

1 cup white cheddar cheese, shredded

½ cup gruyere cheese, shredded

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Additional ¼ cup cheddar and gruyere cheese, shredded, for topping

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a 2-quart baking dish with butter on bottom and all sides.

Use a mandolin slicer or food processor to slice the potatoes into 1/8-inch thick pieces; set aside.

Place butter in medium saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until aromatic, about 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook over medium heat for 1 minute.

Add the milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, until smooth and lump-free. Continue whisking over medium heat, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and add cheeses, ground mustard, thyme and paprika; stir until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.

Place a layer of the sliced potatoes in the greased baking dish, one overlapping the other. Scatter the sliced shallots and chives over the potato layer, then top with 1/3 of the cheese sauce, spreading the thick sauce with a spatula or spoon, until the layer is entirely coated. Repeat for 2 more layers, then sprinkle a ¼ cup of cheddar and gruyere over the top layer of cheese sauce.

Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover the baking dish, sprayed side down. Place dish on a baking sheet and bake for 60 minutes, then remove foil and bake uncovered for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted and golden brown, and the potatoes are tender. For extra crispiness, broil on high for 1 to 2 minutes.

Garnish with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and let rest at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

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