My friend Donna Natale Mason…what can I say other than that Texas is not nearly as colorful without her? She is a vibrant, loud, gorgeous bit of Texas stomping through the snow in Indiana in red cowboy boots. We were debutantes together in Wichita Falls and she keeps threatening to come back to Texas and have a get together where we all wear our (very small sized yet shockingly poufy) deb dresses and eat lots of food and tell raunchy jokes.
In the meantime she has given me a very decadent, yet simple recipe that is dear to her heart. You know I have a soft spot for recipes that are truly an embodiment of love. This recipe not only yields a baked mashed potato dish that will make you tear up with delight, but the story behind it will make you a little weepy, as well. At a minimum it will make you call your mother and tell her you love her, if you are still fortunate enough to have her around.
This is part of the note that Donna sent to me:
“My sweet Momma made these for me when I was pregnant with my daughter, Molly in 2005. My mom was in her third battle with breast cancer, and we weren’t sure she was going to beat it this time. She wanted to throw a dinner party in my honor and invited all of my girlfriends for a wonderful dinner. She made a beef tenderloin, glazed carrots with raspberries, a spinach salad and these potatoes. My Momma beat cancer and we make these potatoes every time we need good luck.”
Hence, I call these Donna’s Good Luck Potatoes. If you are in need of a little luck, or just craving a dish that feels like a hug from your mother, please try these. I love them for several other reasons, as well. First, they have Gruyere cheese in them. Second, they use mashed baked potatoes which I like because I don’t have to peel potatoes with a peeler. And, third, they also have Parmesan cheese in them. For years, Parmesan cheese has been my own personal mashed potato secret. Well, not a secret, but a key. I use it in my mashed potatoes every single time and it yields a flavor that is hard to place, but makes the potatoes richer and fluffier.
My only other comment on mashed potatoes is that it is important to mash in the butter before you add the milk. I learned this in Cook’s Illustrated years ago and I stand by it. The science behind the order is that the butter coats the starch molecules before you add the milk and prevents the milk from making the potatoes gummy. But truthfully, you need not understand the science to gain an immediate benefit to your mashed potato dishes.
3 pounds russet potatoes
3 ounces grated Gruyere cheese (try your microplane if you have one)
¼ cup butter, melted (or in my case, mostly melted)
½ cup milk
¾ cup whipping cream
3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (I used shredded)
Scrub the potatoes and poke several holes in each with a fork. Bake the potatoes at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until a fork pierced into one of the thicker ones meets little resistance. Cool potatoes briefly. Cut them in half, and using a towel in your hand to keep the potatoes from burning you, spoon the flesh from the peels. Put the potato flesh in a large bowl and discard the peels. Mash the potatoes a few times with a masher and add the melted butter. Continue to mash the potatoes until they are evenly coated with butter. Add the milk and continue to mash until the potatoes are the consistency that you like. You can add a splash more milk if you need to get to a good consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Seriously, taste it…you need good mashed potatoes as a base for this amazing topping). Spread the potatoes into a greased 3 quart baking dish. Depending on how much the potatoes have cooled during this process, you might cover them and put them in a warm oven (perhaps 250 degrees while you prepare the cream. The potatoes only go into the oven for an additional 10 minutes so they need to be warm before you add the topping).
Whip the cream until it is fluffy, but soft and fold in Gruyere cheese. Spread over the potatoes and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes.
Donna says you haven’t lived until you make these with steak.
My mashed potatoes, that I love, merely use butter, milk or half & half (depending on my mood), salt, pepper and a handful of Parmesan. Give that a try sometime, too.
Gruyere is a type of Swiss cheese (generally speaking because there are French “Gruyere” cheeses, as well). It is also commonly used in French Onion Soup and on Crocque Madame sandwiches. I love it and have also used it in my Cauliflower Gratin. It is also a great cheese to eat for snacking and even my kids love it.
As you can see from my photos, I should have gone one size up on my baking dish OR put a foil liner under the dish. The cream portion puffs up a bit, which is pretty on the dish but not on the bottom of your oven. So, consider that when choosing your baking dish.
When I talked to Donna about posting this recipe and how I almost cried when I read her words the first time, she said:
“I didn’t mean to make you cry…I made these last night and I knew you’d love them. But, seriously, make steak with it. And my Momma? She just had her appointment and she is 6 years cancer free. My mom is my hero…..I will share that story with anyone…..xxoo.”
Thank you, Donna. And, thanks to Donna’s mom, Priscilla Natale, for having a great kid and great recipes. Now, all of the rest of you who have the privilege, go call your mom.