Comfort Food: Autumnal Au Gratin Potatoes
Think of your favorite comfort food. Is it sweet or savory? Is it warm or cold? Do you eat it with a spoon? A fork? Your fingers? Do you prefer a casserole or soup?
Final question: does it involve a starch, a cheese (or three), and a salty element?
I think that’s why I have always loved Au Gratin Potatoes and Ham. Salty chunks of ham surrounded by cheesy, soft and warm potatoes with just a hint of mustard and that crunchy bread crumb topping are the perfect combination for comfort on a plate. It’s my go-to recipe for delivering a message of love to someone who needs a bit of pampering or a sympathetic gift.
Whenever I make it, I smile in remembrance of a story about my boys that is precious to me. You can read the story of that humorous misunderstanding here.
the flavors of autumn in casserole form
Winter may be the season that many of us need and crave comfort food most but fall, to me, is the season that embraces the senses in the most comforting way. The warmth of the colors and spices, the last produce from the garden, and the chill in the air are just plain soothing.
As I started tweaking the recipe for traditional Au Gratin Potatoes and Ham, I saw some sweet potatoes on the cupboard. That orange color begged to be included. Veggies. This dish needs more veggies. Kale is a wonderful cool-weather vegetable and mushrooms go so well with kale. Sausage would be a good alternative to the ham. Why, yes, I do have some apple-bourbon chicken sausage links in the freezer (true story). What about herbs? Fall … Thanksgiving … sage is the answer.
This is my version of Autumnal Au Gratin Potatoes.
If kale is a four-letter word to you, or if it is not at its best in the grocery store, feel free to substitute spinach or Brussels sprouts. The mushrooms are optional but I encourage you to try them in this dish. Since they are sautéed, they blend in really well and they are loaded with essential nutrients. Don’t happen to have apple-bourbon chicken sausage in your freezer? Substitute any pork, chicken or turkey sausage (link or rope) you like. Look for ones that have flavors (like sage, onion, maple, cranberry, etc.) that will compliment the other ingredients.
A salad of fresh spinach, apples, pears, cucumbers and red onion with a honey-mustard dressing and a few pecans or walnuts will be all you need for a nourishing, yet comforting meal. Well, that and your family.
Autumnal Au Gratin Potatoes
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound fully-cooked chicken sausage
- 4 tablespoons salted butter divided
- 8 oz cremini or white button mushrooms sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon Black Pepper divided
- fresh kale wash and cut into bite-sized pieces to make 3 cups
- 3 medium sweet potatoes
- 3 medium white russet potatoes
- 1/2 cup onion
- 1 tablespoon flour flour
- 1 tablespoon dry sage
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 cups 2% or whole milk room temperature
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese divided, room temperature
- 1 cup shredded swiss cheese divided, room temperature
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat; add sausage pieces, lightly browning. Remove from pan and set aside, reserving one tablespoon of drippings in the pan.
- Add one tablespoon of butter and the sliced mushrooms to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are brown (about 5-7 minutes). Sprinkle mushrooms with salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Remove mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Add kale to the hot pan and cook, 2-3 minutes, until kale wilts. Remove kale and set aside.
- Peel and thinly slice potatoes.
- Place 1/3 of potatoes in bottom of a 9”x13” pan. Cover with 1/2 of the chicken sausage, 1/2 of the mushrooms and 1/2 of the kale. Repeat layering, ending with a final layer of potatoes.
- Melt remaining butter in the skillet over very low heat. Stir in onions and sauté until tender, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in flour, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, sage, crushed red pepper and nutmeg, stirring constantly until bubbly (1-2 minutes). Slowly stir in milk (1/2 cup at a time) and bring back to a very low boil, whisking constantly. Add 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese (1/2 cup at a time) whisking after each addition until melted. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Pour sauce over potato/meat/vegetable layers. Use a fork to gently distribute the sauce throughout the potatoes.
- Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
- Combine bread crumbs, remaining cheese and paprika. Sprinkle on top of casserole and return to oven for 20 minutes, or until top is brown and bubbly.