In The Kitchen: David Tanis’ Potato Gratin and Italian Spice Cake

With the onset of cold weather, I find myself back in the kitchen wanting to warm the house with my oven. I eagerly dug into David Tanis’ new feast for the imagination (aka cookbook), Heart of the Artichoke, for the day’s culinary inspiration. I found it in Italian Spice Cake and Classic Potato Gratin, simple recipes made from ingredients I already had on hand. Both recipes below are paraphrased from Tanis’ book (review to follow).

Creamy Potato Gratin and fresh greens from the garden make for a simple and delicious autumn meal.

The Potato Gratin recipe was an easy choice. Since we just dug up over 60 pounds of potatoes from the garden, we’d been talking about making this luscious creamy bit of potato heaven. Plus I had a pint of cream that I wanted to use up. Tanis follows the classic recipe, just using cream, salt, pepper and butter. Oh, and potatoes.

The second choice was equally easy since my Italian mother-in-law is due to visit next week, and I know she loves these types of not too cloying Italian cakes which go perfectly with coffee as an afternoon pick-me-up or as a breakfast sweet. This cake is even better the next day.

Classic Potato Gratin
Recipe paraphrased from Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis.

  • 3# baking potatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 T butter, plus more for the baking dish
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream, or as needed

1. Oven to 375. Smear a baking dish with butter (I used a 14″ x 2″ circular dish, but you can use any size to fit, just don’t overfill your dish as I did, creating a cream overflow “situation” in the oven).

2. Peel potatoes (I only peel the ugly bits), thinly slice and place in a single layer in the buttered dish. Salt and pepper the layer. Repeat until potatoes are about an inch from the top of the dish. Pour cream over potatoes, tilting the pan to distribute well. With your hands, push down on the top layer to even out the pile. The cream should just barely cover the potatoes. Dot with butter, then cover the dish tightly with a lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes.

3. Remove foil and return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes or so to brown the top of the gratin. Let rest 10 minutes before serving. Makes many servings and is rich enough to serve as a main meal with greens on the side.

Italian Spice Cake
Recipe paraphrased from Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis.

This dense Italian cake is perfect as an afternoon snack and is easy to make.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • a little grated nutmeg
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup unblanched raw almonds
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour*

1. Preheat oven to 375. Butter and flour a 9″ tart pan (I used a pie plate). In a large saucepan (I used a 2 quart), dissolve the sugar in the water and honey and simmer for a couple of minutes.

2. Remove from heat and add zests, spices and cocoa. Add the eggs and mix well. Stir in the raisins and almonds, then the flours.

3. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted into the cake comes out dry. Unmold after about 10 minutes and cool on a rack.

*If you don’t have almond flour, simply grind almonds in your (clean) coffee grinder or blender. You can use regular flour instead of the almond flour but the cake will not have the lighter crumb particular to almond flours, but it will still be delicious.

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