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Under the spell of spuds
These recipes show there's no need to give potatoes second billing
Two weeks spent on the Emerald Isle in my 20s left me with a lasting impression of Irish potato-centric meals. Potatoes at breakfast, yes, and again at noon. Dinner, too.
I didn't complain. I love potatoes. A lot of people must agree with me because the National Potato Council reports that potatoes are the second most consumed food in the U.S. An average American eats, they say, 135 pounds of potatoes a year.
I don't think I'm downing 135 pounds per annum, but I will admit that often, when ordering from a restaurant menu, it's the potato side dish accompanying the entree that makes up my mind. Rather than ordering the luscious chicken dish that comes with a rice pilaf, I most likely would choose the duck breast. Why? A fragrant gratin of potatoes oozing with cream and Gruyère cheese complements the bird.
I pulled out four of my favorite potato recipes. One teams them with artichokes, braised leeks and cream in a delicious gratin. Another presents peeled, roasted potatoes that open like fancy fans in the oven. A third recipe takes mashed potatoes to a whole new level, augmenting them with cooked parsnips and caramelized onions.
A fourth recipe transforms small red potatoes. A cook-flatten-roast technique creates mashed potato interiors and crackly crisp crusts (without deep frying). Baby Dutch Yellow potatoes, small round potatoes with yellowish-white skins, also work well using this approach.
Three of the recipes call for baking potatoes (meaning Russet potatoes). I buy them in 5-pound bags, but I am cautious. The plastic bag is often a brown hue, which masks any green areas. Prolonged exposure to light causes greening and makes the potato taste a little bitter. It can be peeled away, but I find that I'm never happy with the texture.
So I take a good look through the holes in the bag to make sure there are no green-tinged spuds. And I check to make sure that they are wrinkle free, without sprouts or cracks. And when I get them home, I store them (dry and unwashed) either in a basket, on a plate or in an open paper sack (not in a sealed plastic bag) in a cool, dark pantry.
I never refrigerate baking potatoes because extended cold causes the starch to convert to sugar, causing a disagreeable taste. This is true for Yukon Gold potatoes, as well, but red potatoes can be refrigerated. Food fads come and go, but potatoes never go out of style.
Yield: 12 whole-potato servings, or 24 half-potato servings
1 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
5 pounds russet (baking) potatoes, about 12 medium-size, peeled, rinsed
About 20 small fresh bay leaves
About 3⁄4 cup sodium-reduced chicken broth or vegetable broth
Seasoned salt, such as Lawry's Coarse salt (kosher or sea), to taste
Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 385 degrees. In a large skillet or heavy-bottomed, flame-proof roasting pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When butter melts, add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Remove from heat.
Make crosswise slices in potatoes about 1⁄8 inch apart, but don't cut all the way through. There are two approaches that work well. Either place potato in the well of a large wooden spoon and make the cuts (the sides of the spoon's bowl will prevent you from cutting all the way through).
Or on the cutting board, place a chopstick on either side of the potato (the height of the chopstick will prevent you from cutting all the way through). Insert one or two bay leaves in each sliced potato.
Pour broth in skillet or roasting pan (use caution — it might splatter). Add potatoes in a single layer, placing them so the sliced side is up. Using a large spoon, ladle broth mixture over the tops of potatoes. Lightly season with seasoned salt (more salt will be added later, this is primarily for color). Place in preheated oven and cook until potatoes are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove from oven (if using skillet, remember that the handle is very hot). Move oven rack to position about eight inches from broiler element. Turn oven to broil. Spoon pan juices over potatoes and season with coarse salt. Broil potatoes until nicely browned, two to three minutes. Turn on oven light and watch carefully because they can burn easily.
POTATO, LEEK AND ARTICHOKE GRATIN
Yield: 12 servings
Butter for greasing pan
6 medium to large leeks (about 1-1⁄2 pounds; white and pale-green parts only), trimmed, halved lengthwise, washed and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided use
6 large russet (baking) potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled
8 ounces imported Swiss cheese, such as Gruyère or Emmental, shredded (1-1⁄2 cups packed)
1 (11-ounce) jar water-packed artichoke hearts, drained and sliced, or one 8-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, patted dry, sliced lengthwise
1-1⁄2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups half-and-half or heavy whipping cream
1⁄3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish or 14-inch oval gratin dish.
In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine leeks, 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt and 2⁄3 cup water. Cover, bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, about eight minutes. Drain well; transfer leeks to medium bowl, and let cool.
Using food processor slicing disk or mandoline, thinly slice potatoes, then transfer to large bowl and add cold water to cover. Stir with hands to rinse, drain well and repeat. Layer potatoes between paper towels and pat dry.
Add Swiss cheese, artichokes, pepper and remaining 1-1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt to leeks and toss well.
Layer 1⁄3 of potatoes in bottom of prepared dish, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1⁄2 of leek-cheese mixture evenly over top. Top with second layer of potatoes, then remaining leek-cheese mixture, then final layer of potatoes. Slowly pour half-and-half or cream over top. Cover snugly with foil.
Bake 40 minutes (if you haven't sliced potatoes really thinly, increase baking time to 50 minutes). Remove foil, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top, and bake until top is golden and potatoes are easily pierced with small knife, about 20 minutes more. Serve warm.
Source: Adapted from epicurious.com
MASHED POTATOES WITH PARSNIPS AND CARAMELIZED ONION
Yield: eight servings
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided use
2-1⁄2 large yellow onions, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried
6 parsnips, peeled, sliced, see cook's notes
4 large russet potatoes, peeled, sliced
1 cup (whole or 2 percent) milk, heated
Cook's notes: Parsnips look like frumpy carrots that are tan or pale yellow. They combine the sweetness of a carrot with an appealing parsley-like herbal note.
Melt 1-1⁄2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until golden, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Mix in rosemary. (Can be made four hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.)
Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add parsnips and potatoes; boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well. Return vegetables to pot; mash with potato masher. Add warm milk and 4-1⁄2 tablespoons butter; stir until smooth. Stir in onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
Source: Bon Appétit magazine
ROASTED SMASHED POTATOES
Yield: six servings
2 pounds small red potatoes
3⁄4 cup water
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper
Adjust oven racks to top and bottom positions and heat oven to 500 degrees. Arrange potatoes on rimmed baking sheet, pour 3⁄4 cup water onto baking sheet and wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Cook on bottom rack until paring knife or skewer slips in and out of potatoes easily (poke through foil to test), 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove foil and cook 10 minutes. If any water remains on baking sheet, blot dry with paper towel.
Drizzle 3 tablespoons oil over potatoes and roll to coat. Space potatoes evenly on baking sheet and place a second baking sheet on top; press down firmly on baking sheet, flattening potatoes until 1⁄3- to 1⁄2-inch thick. Sprinkle with thyme, season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with remaining 3 tablespoons oil.
Roast potatoes on top rack to 15 minutes, then transfer potatoes to bottom rack and continue to roast until well browned, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Serve immediately.
Source: "Cook's Illustrated Cookbook" from the editors at America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, $40)