Yep, these are mashed potatoes. They look nearly fondue-like, no? Tomorrow, with one quick addition to the pot, you can transform your potatoes to pizzazz.
Add cheese! And lots of it.
There's actually a tradition behind this combination of pureed potatoes and cheese. The dish is called Pommes Aligot and it originates from the Midi-Pyrénées in the South of France. And while I've never seen anything like it on a Thanksgiving table, I can't think of any reason why it shouldn't become your newest staple. Cheesy potatoes have virtually zero probability of clashing with other vegetable side dishes.
The first time I had the dish it was a revelation. In terms of both texture and taste, it's a cross between fondue and mashed potatoes. Needless to say, gravy would go alongside just fine.
Like any mashed potato recipe, this one is difficult to mess up; cream, garlic, butter, and cheese will make any potato that much happier. The method is easy, too, and can be prepared in advance, right up to the point when you add your cheese, which is best to do just before serving. Just keep the mashed potatoes covered and warm, with a few spoonfuls of cream poured on top to prevent a skin from forming.
Cook your peeled potatoes in heavily salted water until very soft. Use Yukon Golds, for their creamy texture and buttery flavor. Drain and return potatoes to the pot over low heat, stirring, until dry. For the smoothest results, pass potatoes through a food mill or ricer into a large bowl. Alternatively, mash them thoroughly.
Return potatoes to the pot and add approximately 1/3 cup cream and 2-3 tablespoons of butter for every pound of potatoes. You should have a smooth, silky-textured puree. If desired, grate a small amount of raw garlic into the puree, or cook a few cloves with your potatoes for a mellower flavor and mash them with the potatoes.
And now for the crux of it: Stirring constantly and vigorously, and lifting your spoon until you reach a stringy consistency, gradually add about 2/3- 3/4 cups grated cheese** (again, for every pound of potatoes), to your warm puree. The cheese should be entirely melted before serving and you should have a stringy, nearly elastic consistency. Thin with additional cream if necessary, season with salt and pepper and serve while hot.
**An important note on the cheese: Traditionally, fresh cheese curds are used in Pommes Aligot. I've had excellent success grating packaged fresh cheese curds that are more and more available in cheese shops and grocery stores. If you can't find cheese curds, use a melting cheese, such as raclette, gruyere, fontina, or even cheddar or mozzarella.
Happy Thanksgiving, from the Cheesemonger!
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.