When I think of traditional potatoes au gratin, immediately, my mind conjures up sun-kissed, Monet-esque images of homey kitchen in a quaint farm town in France. On the kitchen table, I imagine a panoply of things: a white pitcher filled with heavy cream; a golden block of rich European beurre (butter); fluffy mounds of dry-aged, milky-white cheeses (shredded so finely the cheese would melt like snowflakes on one’s tongue); dainty cloves of garlic, naked of their papery skins; and a metal tub brimming with tanned and earthy potatoes. These are the traditional components of potatoes au gratin.
But I like to add two non-traditional twists.
Before I assemble the ingredients into a sturdy baking dish, I like to sauté garlic and scallions in olive oil and add this herbed mixture in with the potatoes. The scallions impart a warm and deep flavor of "comfort" throughout the potatoes. I also like to purposely "misarrange" the thin slices of potatoes, so that the dish seems less rigid, unyielding, and institutional.
Finally, for a uniquely "American Mac 'N Cheese" type feel, I like using a comfortable sharp cheddar cheese rather than the typical dry cheeses such as asiago, parmesan, or romano.
After combining the ingredients and baking the gratin in the oven until the cheese is blistered and bubbling, the end result is a substantial, layered bed of fluffy and fork-tender potatoes which have fully absorbed all flavor elements of the cream and cheese bisque-like concoction. Now that is what I call "transformative!" ... Or at least "bastardized!" Enjoy and bon appetit!