For three years in the late 1970s and early '80s, Johnny Schmitt, of French Laundry fame, lived in France, cooking, gardening, even driving a tractor. Once back in California, he created this dish in memory of a potato gratin he'd loved there.
1 cup heavy cream 1 cup Chicken Stock 4 tbsp. butter 1 garlic clove, crushed 1 bay leaf Pinch of red pepper flakes Freshly grated nutmeg Salt and freshly ground black pepper 4 large russet potatoes, peeled, and thinly sliced 1 cup grated gruyère cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Heat cream, stock, butter, garlic, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, some nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, layer an 8" × 12" baking dish alternately with potatoes and ¾ cup of the cheese to form about 6 layers, finishing with potatoes.
3. Carefully strain heated cream over assembled potatoes, then sprinkle potatoes with remaining ¼ cup of cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and continue baking until potatoes are tender and gratin is golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes. Allow gratin to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.