Part of our adventure in cooking new dishes started a while ago when we had a hankering to make a cassoulet, a traditional French dish. We really don’t remember why we wanted to make a cassoulet; perhaps just the name was enough. Cassoulet: it just sounds comforting, like a dish you’d have when the wind was blowing and rain dancing on the roofs. So, we found a French cookbook, and a recipe, and even though that was several years ago, we still haven’t made that cassoulet. The problem is that the French cookbooks that we look through have dishes that look even better than a cassoulet. Take Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen, for example. She has a recipe for cheese and potato nests, which we modified a bit below. They looked sooo delicious, it made us want to rush out and find everything to make them.
As it turns out, here in the US it is difficult to find the correct kind of cheese. The original recipe calls for Reblochon, which is a raw milk cheese that is only several weeks old. It isn’t allowed in the US. Raw milk cheeses that aged less than 60 days cannot be legally sold in the US. So, a traditional tartiflette seemed out of the picture. Possibly knowing this is difficulty for US readers, she did mention that you could use Brie as a milder substitute. (Yes, we know that it’s possible to buy Reblochon-style cheeses made with pasteurized milk; we didn’t find a local source.)
Makes 12 nests.
Since you’re making something that resembles nests, you want long shreds of potatoes. We used the shredding disk of a food processor, but careful use of a grater might work. For the Brie, when we say cubed, we mean with the rind still in place. Brie is too soft and sticky to cube any other way. Finally, the wine. Our go-to wine for cooking and drinking is almost always a Pinot Grigio. It’s generally good-tasting, no matter the cost (although this time we purchased Gaetano D’Aquino from Trader Joe’s and were NOT impressed. We’ll try to stick to Barefoot, instead).
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter muffin tin cups. Use quite a bit of butter, since you’ll be baking cheese and potatoes in there, and it should make it easier to remove the nests later.
Sauté onions. Place a large skillet containing the the olive oil over medium heat. When hot and shimmering, add onions, garlic, and the bay leaf, and sauté for about 10-15 minutes. You want the onions to become tender and start to brown. When they’re browning, the sugars are caramelizing and adding flavors.
Add wine. Once the onions are getting really nice, add the wine. Just pour it in and let it sizzle. Now, let it bubble and cook down. We turned up the heat a little, to help cook it off a bit faster. Or, if you can wait, just let it simmer away.
Add potatoes. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded potatoes. We waited to shred them until the onions were almost ready; that way, the potatoes wouldn’t turn brown before being cooked.
Add cheese. Now stir in the chunks of Brie. Yeah, they’ll melt a bit, but not as much as you might think.
Fill muffin pans. Once we’d shredded the requisite potatoes, we knew this was one of those recipes where people didn’t really test it by measuring out the recommended weight of potatoes, as it was obvious that this would be too much potato for only 6 nests. That’s why we suggest going with 12. Anyway, divide the potatoes and cheese among the 12 muffin tins.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the tops are crispy brown and the cheese is bubbling.
Serve. Scoop these out and serve hot.
Sometimes the best part about a recipe is the picture and idea of it. We loved the picture, and the idea of a traditional French potato casserole changed up into little nests. Tasting these nests, we realized they were lacking. They were bland. We had to hit them up with a serious amount of salt and pepper at the table to make them taste better. Plus, the bottom parts of the nest were not crunchy. The tops, yes; the bottom and edges, non. But, as with Rachel Khoo’s recipe for Mac ‘n’ Cheese, we’ll be keeping some parts of this and tossing the rest. We definitely like the potato nests, but next time we’ll press the potatoes into hot cast iron muffin tins so the edges and bottoms will get crispy, then fill with a bit of cheese and onion mixture. And, we won’t use Brie. These need a more flavorful cheese; Reblochon might be just the ticket. Not having had it (the Reblochon), we don’t know for certain, but we think a strong Gruyère, a Swiss, a strong Cheddar, or even a mix would be much better than Brie. So, as it stands, just three stars.