Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin

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From The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

Pimento cheese, sometimes called the South’s “house pâté,” is a simple cheese spread made with extra-sharp cheddar, mayonnaise, and diced roasted red peppers. It’s a very mildly peppery blend straight from the midcentury, and it’s delicious on celery sticks, sandwiches, and hamburgers. Why not juice up a gratin with the peppery double hit of sweet roasted peppers and hot crushed red chile? We went into the test kitchen and developed this casserole that has dethroned our macaroni and cheese for the title of favorite cheesy dish in the house!

Ingredients
3 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 shallots, finely diced (scant 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon crushed dried red chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One 9-ounce jar roasted red peppers or piquillo peppers, with their liquid
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)

Instructions
1. Heat the oven to 375°F, with racks positioned in the middle and the top third of the oven.

2. In a 3- to 4-quart stockpot, bring 2 quarts water and 2 teaspoons of the salt to a boil. Add the potatoes, and cook for 10 minutes. Then drain, and set them aside.

3. Combine the cream, shallots, chile flakes, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, the black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the jar of roasted peppers in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the chile flakes have begun to stain the cream, about 2 minutes. Add half of the cheese and stir until it melts, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

4. Layer roughly a third of the potatoes in a 6-cup baking dish, overlapping them slightly so that they fit in an even layer. Scatter half of the roasted peppers on top of the potatoes (cut up any peppers that have remained whole so that they lie flat), and repeat layering potatoes and peppers until all the peppers and potatoes have been used. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes and peppers, and agitate the dish to distribute the liquid throughout. Cover with aluminum foil, and bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes.

5. Uncover the dish, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, and place the dish on the top oven rack. Bake for 8 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and gently browned on top. Serve immediately.

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