There Are Two Kinds of Cooks in the World – Stuffed Scalloped Potatoes Gratin

Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

No. Really. Two kinds. And hang on for a moment, because towards the end of this piece, we’re going to talk about what they are. But first, let’s talk stuffed scalloped potatoes.

They are astonishingly good, you can make them in a wide variety of ways – they’re one of those dishes that can be elegant and mannered or real refrigerator cleaners. And I mean that in the very best of all possible ways.

In Which We Think About Scalloped Potatoes

As served across the US, scalloped potatoes are a satisfying plain dish of potatoes, cream and sometimes cheese – perfect comfort food to accompany a main dish. But, and I will say this just once, they can be a bit boring. BORING. OK, I said it twice.

It’s not that they’re bad, they’re just always the same. You can make ’em plain. You can vary the cheese, from cheddar to gruyere, from parmesan to emmentaler, from using a single cheese to using multiple cheeses. You can vary the seasoning, from minimally seasoned (let the ingredients shine!) to seasoned with aromatic spices and herbs. All good!

And yet. They’re still a sophisticated version of cheesy taters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s a classic kind of comfort food, but . . .

But I wanted more variety. And. . .I wanted to do whatever I did in one dish. Being the cook and the bottle-washer gives you an appreciation for the time it takes to wash those bottles. Love those one-dish meals!

So – scalloped potatoes are – what? A buttered container, a layer of sliced potatoes, some milk and / or cream, which may be seasoned with nutmeg, thyme, a little salt, a little pepper, possibly some garlic.  Another layer, a little more possibly-seasoned milk/cream mixture, a final layer, a little butter dotted on top, and bake. Voila!! Perfectly lovely and really pretty simple to make.

When you think about it, this is quite a bit like a lasagna, with the starch layered with other stuff.

I approached this like lasagna, thinking of the potatoes as carriers. We might want to cut the slices of potato a little thicker, as they’re going to be a bit more structural. And we might want to season the potatoes a little less, because we’re going to be Putting Stuff Between the Layers.

What is this “Stuff” You Speak Of?

Glad you asked. In our case, it’s mostly whatever we could find in the refrigerator. What we found was some pancetta, some salami, some cheeses, some sweet red bell pepper, some red onion, a little bit of spinach, some milk, some cream, and a little prosciutto. So – pork products, veggies, milk, cheese and cream.

Stuffed Scalloped Potatoes Gratin

Ingredients for four to six servings

  • 2-1/2 lb. Yukon Gold, or red or even white potatoes, peeled and cut into approx. 3/16″ slices. OK, OK, 1/4″ slices are good too. You want to use a waxy potato – avoid using russets for this dish, unless you don’t have anything else.
  • 6 oz. heavy cream or half and half. We used cream.
  • 1-1/4 C. milk. We used 2%.
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt. We used Kosher, coarse sea salt is also good. If you use table salt, use a little less.
  • pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika or sweet paprika
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 4 oz. spinach, coarsely chopped
  • Optional, but very good – 3-4 oz. cooked weight pancetta. I like to get pancetta sliced about as thick as my little finger and cut it into chunks about as big as the end of said finger, then fry until most of the fat has rendered and pat dry. So good!!
  • Got salami? Chop up 3 oz coarsely.
  • Got prosciutto or cured ham? Slice a couple of ounces into thin strips about 1/2″ wide. If you aren’t using prosciutto, increase one or more of the other meats.
  • 1/2 sweet red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, sliced into thin strips
  • About 2 TB flour
  • 8 oz. cheese grated on coarse side of box grater. I used a mix of Vermont cheddar and a little bit of Gruyere that I happened to have lying around. All cheddar is great too!

Note for Vegetarians

This dish can be made entirely vegetarian (not vegan) friendly. Just omit the various meats and add more chopped veggies. A few handfuls of chopped kale, for example, make a wonderful addition. The milk and cheese add plenty of protein. Reduce the amount of milk and cream to 1 C. milk, 4 oz. cream or half-and-half, as the extra veggies provide additional liquid to the dish.


Preheat oven to 375F.

Butter a medium sized ovenproof dish – I used a 10″ x 10″ square pie dish. The idea is you want to have three layers of potatoes in your dish. 2-1/2 pounds sliced to the thickness described above should do that nicely. If you have a few extra slices, you can layer them in with the others, if you don’t appear to have enough, you can peel and slice another potato or make a little thinner layer!

Add a layer of the sliced potatoes to the dish. Sprinkle evenly with a little salt, pepper, and about half the flour. Top with about half the chopped veggies and meats, then half the cheese.

Add another layer of potatoes. Repeat layering as above, using the rest of the flour, but reserve a little cheese for the final topping. I reserved the Gruyere in its entirety for the top layer. Reserve a few of the sliced red peppers to top the dish!

Add a final layer of potatoes, the reserved cheese, a few of the sliced red peppers and a sprinkling of the smoked paprika or sweet paprika. I used smoked.

Mix the cream and milk and nutmeg thoroughly and pour into the dish. Pour it in carefully from the edge until it covers approximately half or a bit more of the potato layers.

Pop it into the top half of the oven for about 30 minutes. The cheesy top of the potatoes should be nicely browned and the entire dish should be bubbling.

Remove from oven and let it sit for 10 minutes to cool down and set a bit.

Slice into wedges or squares and serve. We served ours with a chopped kale salad – most any green salad would be great with this. We drank Malbec, because, well, it was OPEN – but I was thinking “beer”.

What’s this got to do with two kinds of cooks anyhow??

So there are two kinds of cooks – cooks who prefer to follow a recipe, and cooks who. . .do not. Keep in mind that this is a spectrum. There are cooks who prefer to stick by the recipe – sometimes only the first time or two they make a dish, but sometimes forever!

And, there are cooks who would rather not use recipes at all – sometimes these cooks will use recipes as guidelines, sometimes they’ll just wing it in general, but they are – to one degree or another – recipe averse.

Your own cooking probably lies somewhere on this spectrum. Both styles have distinct advantages.

If you’re a cook who likes to cook from a recipe, and somebody loves what you’ve made, well – it’s not difficult to make it again. As our friend Susie often says, “If you can read, you can cook.” Score!

If you’re a non-recipe based cook, and somebody loves what you’ve made, then frequently, they’re going to have to love something that may well be slightly different the next time you make it. That would be me.

Creating this food blog has forced me to adopt the discipline of writing down what I use in recipes  so I can deliver a reasonably well-tested recipe to you. And yet – sometimes I just want to see what’s lying around in the house and wing it. 🙂

You can use this recipe – and all Calorie Factory recipes – in two ways. You can either follow the recipe explicitly. We’ve cooked the dish according to the directions we give you in the recipe – if you cook it that way – it will work!

Or, you can use the recipe as a kind of guideline or starting point. Many Calorie Factory recipes offer tips and hints for creative play with the base recipe – or, you can invent your own!

Cooking – particularly cooking for family and friends – is a way we express our love and connection. We hope you enjoy these recipes, whether you follow them directly, or use them as jumping off points for your own inventions.