October 27, 2010

A Potato Primer

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Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

Potatoes are the workhorse of the produce world.  They can be baked, boiled, fried, mashed, roasted, sauteed, used in casseroles, soups, salads, breads and even desserts.  Potatoes are available in the produce department as well as in cans, boxes, the freezer section and, of course, as chips.  This versatile vegetable even has a day honoring its greatness. October 27 is National Potato Day.

There are different varieties of potatoes available in the produce section. The moisture level and starch content differs in the potatoes.  This means different varieties are better suited for certain types of cooking.  Potatoes with a high starch content -- baking or Russets -- are best when baked, fried and mashed.  Potatoes with a lower starch content -- boiling, blue, purple and new -- hold their shape better and are best suited for soups, salads and casseroles.

One of my favorite potato recipes is Scalloped Potatoes.  A lot of people use the term scalloped and au gratin interchangeably.  Although both use cheese, there's one big difference.  Scalloped potatoes have a white sauce, but au gratin potatoes do not.

The recipe for Scalloped Potatoes is only one of two in my collection that calls for milk to be scalded.  To scald milk means to bring the milk almost to the boiling point.  Scalding milk isn't hard and it's even easier when you follow these tips:

  • Use a thick bottomed pan for even cooking.
  • Rinse the pan with cold water before adding the milk.  This will help keep the milk from sticking.
  • Cook the milk on medium heat and stir constantly.
  • Heat the milk until small bubbles appear around the surface of the pan.  Don't let the milk come to a boil.  

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

I like doing as much prep work ahead of time as possible and this recipe is no exception.  Although I don't combine the ingredients ahead of time, I grate the cheese, chop the onion and measure the dry ingredients early in the day.  When it's time to cook, I only have to peel and slice the potatoes and scald the milk.  The potatoes need to be sliced the same thickness -- or as close as possible -- so the potatoes cook evenly.  I slice my potatoes thin like this:

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

Once the potatoes are sliced, you layer them with the other ingredients, except the milk, in a pan that has sides at least 2-inches deep.  I use a Corning Ware casserole dish that holds approximately 3 quarts.  Once the ingredients are layered, the scalded milk is poured on top.  It takes 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes for the potatoes to cook, but it is worth the wait.

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes
Ready to bake.

I like to serve Scalloped Potatoes with meat loaf, but it's a great side dish with any meat.  Once you've tried this recipe, you'll never want the scalloped potatoes that come in a box!

Margaret's Morsels | Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes
4 to 6 Servings

1 (8 oz.) pkg. Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 lb. boiling potatoes
1 1/2 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into very thin pieces
1 1/2 cups milk

Combine 1 1/2 cups cheese, the onion, flour, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl; set aside.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/8-inch thick slices.  Arrange 1/3 of the potatoes on the bottom of a greased baking dish with sides at least 2-inches deep.  Put half the cheese mixture and 1/2 the butter on top of the potatoes.  Make a second layer using another third of the potatoes and all the remaining cheese mixture and butter.  Cover the top with the remaining potatoes.

Scald the milk and pour over the potatoes; top the potatoes with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.  Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

© Margaret's Morsels


  1. And shredded/grated very fine to be added to ground beef to add a delightful taste and texture to taco meat. It also stretches the taco meat, I am sure that is why it was done when I was first introduced to it years and years ago. Try you will be pleasantly surprised by the taste. I have done that with several different meals over the years now, I call it my hidden starch.

  2. Thanks for the tip. I'll have to give that a try!!!