Welsh Onion Cake, West Wales

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It is not only those clever French who have recipes that turn the humble potato into a culinary star. The people of Wales have their Teisen Nionod, or onion cake. This is essentially a gratin dish, though it differs in two ways from most French versions I have ever come across: firstly, it generally uses no stock or milk in the cooking (some advocate using a tiny bit of milk); and it is finished on the bottom as well as the top.
Start by greasing a cake tin or a casserole with plenty of butter. Potatoes for this are sliced as thinly as possible, as are the onions, the two veg being placed in alternate layers, with a dot or two of butter to each layer and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. A bit more butter on the top, and a trickle of melted butter poured over doesnít hurt. Cover with a lid or foil, and cook in a moderate oven, say around 170 centigrade, for about 90 minutes. The timing depends on the potato used (waxy salad varieties are best to keep the shape of the cake), check floury versions before 90 minutes are up.
The lid or foil is removed for the last 30 minutes or so, to let that surface brown. The cake is carefully inverted onto an ovenproof plate, and put under an overhead grill until what was the bottom is a nice brown hue as well. If you donít want the hassle and are happy with the spuds at the bottom being soft, donít bother with this inversion and just serve from the dish like an ordinary gratin, though it will be less authentically Welsh.
This dish goes well with roast lamb (and is accommodating enough to cook at higher or lower temperatures so can be done along with the meat), and with meaty stews with plenty of juice to mingle with the spuds.
More adventurous cooks add thyme, or experiment with cheese, but Teisen Nionod in its most basic form is elegantly simple and not really in need of tarting up.

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