In a perfect French pommes aligot, it’s hard to know where the potatoes end and the cheese begins. A molten, creamy mass of potatoes permeated with mountain cheeses, aligot combines the stretchy pull of fondue with the silky suppleness of potato purée. Soft, gooey and eminently soothing, it’s just the thing to make on an icy, dark day, or at least, when it feels that way deep in your soul.
I first saw aligot potatoes, a dish from the wind-swept Aubrac plateau in France, being whipped up tableside at a restaurant in the Auvergne. Into a well-used copper pot, the waiter beat boiled yellow potatoes and handfuls of grated local tomme fraîche (sometimes spelled tome fraîche) until he could pull it above his head. Then he mounded the steaming, elastic mix next to browned sausages, and I ate them together, spreading the aligot over sausage slices like a thick, savory sauce.
In this version, sweet potatoes stand in for regular ones, making the whole thing sweeter and beautifully autumnal. And instead of hard-to-find tomme fraîche, I use a mix of easier to find semifirm cheese — Gruyère, Emmantaler, Saint-Nectaire, Tomme de Savoie and the like.
Finally, as a crisp, herbal garnish, I add fried sage. Try to find the biggest sage leaves you can: They are easier to fry than small leaves, which can burn almost as quickly as you add them to the oil. In either case, set everything up before you start frying, and work quickly. Then season the leaves while they are still hot so the salt sticks. (Then try not to gobble them all before the aligot is ready.)
Although in France aligot is usually a side dish to roasted or grilled meats, I like it as a meatless main course, served with a snappy green salad, preferably one made from assertive lettuces like watercress, escarole, frisée or radicchio.
Aligot is most impressively served right after it’s made, when the potatoes are best able to stretch to dramatic heights in front of your guests. But if you must, you can make it up to three days in advance. Reheat it on low, stirring in a little cream until the mixture is melted and smooth. Then sit down and exhale. Dinner doesn’t get more comforting than this.