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Sooner or Tater

Old-school scalloped potatoes are the stuff of spud dreams
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Scalloped Potatoes
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table

"Why mess with a good thing?"

Those were my mom's exact words when I asked if she'd ever tweaked the recipe for her scalloped potatoes, which have made an appearance on our holiday table just about every year I can remember—and are usually the first thing to disappear.

My mom is a great cook. Don't let the name Laura Palmer fool you: Her background is 100 percent Italian, and she can make a red sauce like nobody's business. Which is why I find it funny that one of my favorite dishes of hers is not only all American but as simple as they come.

Turns out the recipe is from the somewhat hilariously named Reader's Digest Creative Cooking cookbook, which my mom has been hanging onto since 1977. She made these scalloped potatoes one night when she was having her in-laws and her mother over for dinner, and hasn't changed a thing since. My grandmother, Evelyn, was a tough customer, so if she liked them, it was a pretty big vote of confidence.

So, yes, she's been making this recipe the exact same way for more than 30 years. If you try it, you'll see why. It's stupid easy: Slice russet potatoes, season them with salt and pepper, then layer with finely diced onions and cheddar cheese. Then (obviously) dump more cheese on the top and douse the whole thing in a milk-and-egg mixture. Oh, and did I mention there's butter involved? Dot the top with a bunch of it, grease a foil sheet to cover the pan and bake until the potatoes are tender and the whole thing is golden and bubbly.

The flavors of the onion meld into the potatoes beautifully, and the cheesy, milky, eggy goodness that holds it all together is silky and delicious. The scalloped potatoes taste even better when they soak up the juices from roast beef or pork, but, really, they add a few layers of awesomeness to just about anything.

I've already asked my mom to make them again this year.

Scalloped Potatoes

Recipe adapted from "Reader's Digest Creative Cooking" (1977)

Yield: Serves 6

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Ingredients

1½ pounds firm, waxy potatoes (such as russets)—peeled, washed and chopped into thin slices (crosswise)

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

¼ pound cheddar cheese, grated

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing

1 egg

1¼ cups whole milk

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease a shallow, 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. In the dish, arrange the potato slices in layers, sprinkling each layer with onion, cheese, salt and pepper. Finish with a thick layer of cheese and dot the top with the remaining butter.

3. Beat the egg and milk together. Pour this mixture carefully over the potatoes. Cover the dish with buttered foil.

4. Bake in the center of the oven until the potatoes are tender and the topping is golden, 1½ hours. If you'd like the top to be more browned and crisp, remove the foil 15 to 20 minutes before you finishing baking. Serve warm.

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