If you thought “scalloped potatoes” and “healthy” couldn’t go in the same sentence, you were probably right. However, Cooks Illustrated (there I go talking about them again) has come up with a lighter version that I think, with a little tweaking, is absolutely fantastic. I cut back on the amount of onions they originally called for, changed the topping a bit, and added some cubed ham. I grew up eating ham in my scalloped potatoes, so the thought of omitting it was unfathomable but if you’re vegetarian, by all means, the dish will taste just fine without it. My dad likes adding chopped roasted Anaheim chili peppers to his scalloped potatoes, so if you enjoy a little extra kick, feel free to toss in some of those when the recipe says to add the ham.
You need to slice those potatoes with a food processor or mandolin or they won’t cook evenly. Try as you might, you won’t slice them this thin with a knife, and even if you could, it would mean being in the kitchen all day. Notice that when I am done, my slices are thin enough that you can almost see through them.
For those of you who like to make casseroles and freeze part of them for later, you need to know that potatoes do funny things when you freeze them, so I’d say just hedge your bets and eat all of this when it’s fresh. To play it really safe, just eat it all the first night. This dish is so tasty, that shouldn’t really be a problem.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The Best Light Recipe
These potatoes are just as tasty as their full-fat counterparts!
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Combine the onion, oil, and salt in a large pot. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes.
- While the onions are cooking, peel and slice your potatoes.
- Once the onions are done, stir in the garlic, thyme, and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- After adding spices, add the potatoes, ham (if using), milk, and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until partially tender, and a fork can be slipped into a potato slice with some resistance, about 10 minutes.
- Discard the bay leaves. Whisk the cornstarch and water together, then add to the pot and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, stir in the cream cheese and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, being careful not to break up the potatoes.
- Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch-square baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Add the slices of cheddar cheese and sprinkle bread crumbs across the top to cover.
- Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the potatoes are completely tender, a fork can be slipped into the center of the dish without resistance, and the top is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.