This recipe was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004.

Oven "fries" and cheese sauce

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two as a meatless main course, four as a side dish)

For the "fries"
2 large baking potatoes, about 1/2 pound (250g) each
3 tablespoons peanut oil
Black pepper

For the cheese sauce
2 ounces (60g) sharp Cheddar
2 tablespoons (30g) butter
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup (6 ounces/180g) milk
1 teaspoon (5g) spicy brown mustard
Black pepper


The "fries"

1. Preheat oven to 475F (250C). Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lenghthwise, and cut each half into about six long wedges. Put the cut potatoes in a mixing bowl filled with hot water, and let them soak for 10 minutes or so.

2. Drizzle about half of the peanut oil on a large cookie sheet and spread to cover. Shake salt and black pepper over the oil.

3. Take the potatoes out of the water and pat them dry with paper towels. Dry the bowl, put the potatoes back in the bowl, and toss them with the remaining peanut oil until they're well covered. Put the potatoes on the baking sheet, distributing them evenly so they lie in a single layer. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, put the tray on the bottom oven shelf, and bake covered for about five minutes.

4. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes, turning the cookie sheet around after about 10 minutes if they don't appear to be baking evenly. Using a thin metal spatula, turn each "fry," taking care to scoot the spatula underneath so the crunchy bottoms release cleanly from the sheet. Bake for another 15 or 20 minutes, turning the pan once if needed, until the potatoes are crisp and brown.

The cheese sauce

While the fries are baking, make the (optional) cheese sauce.

1. Grate the cheese, which should be enough to fill about 1 cup, loosely packed.

2. Heat the milk to just under the boiling point (about 1 minute in the microwave should do it). Put the butter and the peeled, smashed garlic clove in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the butter stops bubbling and the garlic is aromatic, but don't let the butter start to brown. Remove and discard the garlic, put in the flour all at once, and stir briskly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the flour and butter are well mixed. Cook for a minute or two, then pour in the hot milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly.

3. When the mixture comes back to the boil, add the grated cheese, mustard and cayenne, and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat and leave it to cool and thicken for a few minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

When the potatoes are ready, put them on warm plates and accompany each with a pool of cheese sauce. Season to taste (chances are you'll need little additional salt), and serve.

MATCHING WINE: This casual meal doesn't demand a specific wine, and in fact a good cold beer would be a delight. But the rich, sharp cheese sauce makes the dish wine-friendly, too, and we were in the mood for something a little special; so I went to the "special occasion" shelf for an excellent Loire Cabernet Franc with a little age on it, Clos Rougeard 1998 "Les Poyeux" Saumur Champigny. There's a reason why "wine and cheese" is a classic pairing, though: Just about any wine you like will do.