Melting Potatoes with Thyme and Cheese
(Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 to 3 as a main course, with a salad; may be doubled by using two pans)
As an homage to one of my heroes, Nigel Slater, I set out to create the sine-qua-non of potato comfort-in-a-pan. But, in order to qualify for inclusion in my relaxed kitchen, it had to be 80 percent hands-off, and then, once finished, capable of hanging out uncompromised until I was good and ready to serve. This heavenly dish is the result.
Mise-en-Place: Sliver the onion, wash and slice the potatoes and garlic, slice the cheese.
2 tablespoons salted butter, preferably cultured or European
1 yellow onion, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 1¼ pounds Yukon gold, white or red rose potatoes, washed and sliced the thickness of two stacked quarters
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces thick-sliced taleggio or robiola cheese
3 ounces thick-sliced Italian fontina, plus (optional) 1 ounce sliced pecorino, truffled or otherwise
Put a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-low heat and place in it the butter and oil. When the butter has melted, add the onion and stir occasionally for about 10 minutes, until wilted and perhaps just slightly golden. Add the potatoes, garlic, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat all the ingredients with the fat and seasonings. Spread in an even layer, cover the pan, and let cook very gently for 40 minutes, turning over with a spatula 2 or 3 times during cooking. When the potatoes are fork-tender but not falling apart, remove the remains of the thyme sprigs, if desired, and distribute the cheese(s) evenly over the top, cover the pan, and let cook for 2 minutes more, until the cheese is melted but not bubbling. Serve at once or set aside at the back of the stove, covered, for up to 20 minutes. Warm over low heat until the cheese is runny before serving.
For Adventure Club Members: Scatter with a small handful of roughly snipped fresh chives or chopped tarragon just before serving