Before I share this recipe with you I would like to warn you that a floodgate of sentimental mush is going to come forth with it. It is not just a recipe it’s a story of me and my then-boyfriend-now-husband Brad and our journey of bringing two very foreign lives together in order to make sense of our future.
When I moved from Russia to the States I often got asked what kind of food we ate back in the Motherland but if my answers didn’t include cabbage or vodka they only led to disappointment from my college classmates. To put an end to all the confusion I went to Barnes and Nobel one day and purchased a very thick and legit looking Russian cookbook-The Art of Russian Cuisine by Anne Volokh to arm myself with a variety of authentic Russian recipes to share.
Potatoes a la Russe was one of the them although I have to admit it existed in the book under a different name perhaps slightly more prosaic and much less French.
You are probably wondering where exactly love comes into all this food talk. Well, food and love are always connected- you can’t possibly cook great food without putting love into it AND everything tastes so much better when you are in love.
The story takes us to my college days when Brad and I were still dating . We were very young and in love and completely broke. We had no money to go on all the thrilling, mind-blowing dates we often saw in rom coms. We had to get creative! Cooking together in a small student kitchen on our college campus was one of our favourite pastimes. It was so much fun to “play house” with him and also introduce him to some of the dishes I grew up with, then watch his reaction. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Not all ethnic recipes translate well to North American tastes but this particular one I am about to share with you does. I am pretty sure Potatoes a la Russe made Brad fall in love and realize it was unlikely he could live the rest of his life without those potatoes…and me.
So be prepared this dish has magic properties. You can even say it’s a Love Potion of sorts. The most beautiful thing is that it’s dead simple and requires very basic ingredients.
Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream
Salt and Pepper
Hard and Sharp Tasting Cheese like Parmesan (I used Pecorino as that’s what I had in the fridge)
Preheat your oven to 350F/180C. Butter an oven proof dish and set aside. Heat your non-stick frying pan and melt a tablespoon of butter into it. I can already predict that people will want to substitute butter with oil or margarine and I am going to stop you in your tracks. Don’t do it! Butter is where your flavour comes from. Don’t mess with perfection!
Slice you potatoes (not too thin) and fry them in batches until golden, season with salt and pepper. Take them off the heat once they are nicely coloured even if they are still hard on the inside, we will bake them later till doneness.
Now slice the mushrooms and fry them in the same pan over a medium heat adding more butter and seasoning them with salt and pepper. Chop up your parsley and sprinkle all over mushrooms and cook 2-3 min. longer until all the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates. Set aside.
Slice the onions and fry them as well. Now all of your ingredients are ready for layering.
The layering of this dish is very similar to lasagne, so I am confident you will master it. First arrange your slices of potatoes on the bottom of your dish and scatter onions on top of them.
Next layer mushrooms.
And then repeat all the layers one more time finishing with a thin layer of creme fraiche.
Finish it off with sprinkling of grated sharp cheese.
Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until heated through and the cheese is golden.
Every beautiful thing is essentially simple but simple doesn’t have to be dull. This potato dish is a proof that a few great quality ingredients put together in a loving way can produce flavours that are far from plain. The mushrooms, potatoes, onions and butter together are so earthy, gratifying and deliciously nostalgic of childhood and simpler days you would want to eat it every time you are faced with the harsh reality of the world. Comfort food indeed!
P.S. In no way this post was promoting or supporting”emotional eating”:-). All the beautiful food should be eaten in moderation and enjoyed with friends and family, they are the “real” mood lifters, not butter!