By David Tanis, The New York Times
Cheap, nourishing, eminently available and fuss-free, the humble potato is just the thing for these days and weeks of stay-at-home, nearly nonstop cooking.
Potatoes have always had mass appeal. And I find them beyond appealing, really. How deep is my love for potatoes? The mere mention of them makes my pulse race, starts me salivating, makes my mouth water and drool.
Potatoes are undeniably delicious, and there are so many ways to prepare them — steamed, boiled, baked, mashed, smashed, roasted or fried. Simply slathered with butter or anointed with olive oil, the only seasoning required is a little salt. But a sprinkling of black pepper from the mill or a dab of sour cream or a bit of chopped parsley, green onion or chives improves the experience for not much extra effort.
These basic preparations reveal but the iceberg’s tip. There are an endless number of potato soups, pancakes, stews, stuffings, soufflés. Gratins, gnocchi, salads, samosas, pies. Every culture has a potato repertoire, which means a potato lover’s opportunities are without boundary.
Under the best circumstances, you can count on tender new potatoes in the spring and summer. Red-skinned boilers, earthy russets, yellow-fleshed Yukon, purple Peruvians and diminutive fingerlings are normally obtainable throughout the year. For the recipes that follow, medium-sized yellow potatoes are ideal, with russets as a second choice.
These dishes may be considered the first course, main course or side. Personally, I relish the opportunity to make a meal of potatoes only.
Recipe: Potato Soup With Indian Spices
This easy vegetarian soup is surprisingly full-flavored and accessible. Aside from potatoes, there are no special vegetables required, just onion, carrot and celery, and it’s easily made vegan by substituting cooking oil for the butter and ghee. A little fresh ginger, cayenne and turmeric are spices most cooks have on hand, but I like to add a pinch of asafetida (also called hing), which can be found in specialty spice shops or Indian groceries. It adds real depth and a kind of heady aroma that is especially good with potato dishes. But don’t worry if you don’t have it. More important are the sizzled cumin seeds, mustard seeds and garlic (the tarka), added at the end, which really give the soup its character. This soup keeps well and actually tastes even better a day or two after it is made. If you find it too thick upon reheating, just add a splash of water and adjust the salt as necessary.
Total time: About 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium onions, diced
- Kosher salt
- 3 medium carrots, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1/2 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potato, in 1-inch chunks
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Lime wedges, for garnish
For the tarka:
- 2 tablespoons ghee or neutral oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 small green chile, chopped (optional)
1. Put butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and a little salt and cook, stirring, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook for 5 minutes more.
2. Add turmeric, ginger, cayenne and asafetida, if using. Stir to coat and cook for another minute or so. Add potato chunks and 6 cups water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a brisk simmer. Add a healthy pinch of salt and cook until potatoes are soft when pierced with a skewer, about 15 minutes. Taste broth and adjust salt and heat as necessary: 1/4 teaspoon cayenne should suffice to make the soup fairly spicy, but add a touch more if you like.
3. Use a potato masher to crush some of the potatoes, then continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. This will help to thicken the soup slightly and give it more body. Turn off the heat.
4. Make the tarka: Heat ghee in a small skillet over medium, but don’t let it get too hot. Lower heat and add garlic and cumin seeds. Cook, stirring, until garlic is barely colored and cumin seeds have begun to brown, a minute or so. Add mustard seeds and green chile, if using. When mustard seeds begin to pop, after another minute, add the tarka to the soup and stir in.
5. Ladle soup into low bowls, garnish with cilantro and serve. Pass lime wedges at the table.
Tips: Soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, though you may need to add a little water when reheating.
Recipe: Oven-Fried Patatas Bravas (Crispy Potatoes With Two Sauces)
Paired with spicy salsa brava and garlicky allioli, patatas bravas are traditionally served in tapas bars throughout Spain. The salsa brava is made with pimentón, the smoked Spanish paprika sold as picante (hot) and dulce (sweet). Some cooks include a lot of chopped tomato, but my friends in Madrid tell me they prefer this version, which looks a bit like rusty gravy. As for the allioli, a garlic mayonnaise very similar to the French aioli, you can mount it by hand with a whisk, or use a stick blender as most Spaniards do. Some add lemon juice; I don’t. Though patatas bravas are typically pan-fried on the stovetop, I came up with this easier oven-fried method. The potatoes emerge beautifully browned and crisped, and their flavor is sensational. This is not fancy fare. Grab a fork and dip the hot potatoes in both sauces for the optimal experience.
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 appetizer servings
For the potatoes:
- 2 pounds yellow-fleshed or russet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 head garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled
For the salsa brava:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon pimentón dulce, or use sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon pimentón picante, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 cup chicken broth or water
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- Kosher salt
For the allioli:
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 garlic cloves, pounded, finely minced or grated
- 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put potato chunks in a large bowl, season generously with salt and toss to coat. Leave for a few minutes to let potatoes absorb salt. Add olive oil and unpeeled garlic cloves and toss to coat well. (Don’t skimp on the oil; it can be strained and saved after cooking for future use.)
2. Transfer potatoes (and garlic cloves) and oil to a large cast-iron skillet or heavy roasting pan. Make sure to have potatoes in a single layer without crowding. (If necessary, use two pans.) There should be a good 1/2-inch oil in the bottom of the pan. Add more if required.
3. Place pan in oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until potato chunks are well browned on the bottom. With a metal spatula, carefully turn chunks over. Reduce heat to 400 degrees, and continue roasting until potatoes are well browned and crisp, about another 15 to 20 minutes.
4. While potatoes are roasting, make the two sauces: For the salsa brava, put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and let sizzle without browning, then stir in flour and let mixture sizzle. Stir in tomato paste, pimentón dulce and pimentón picante, then add chicken broth gradually, stirring well as the sauce thickens. Bring to a gentle simmer, add vinegar and cook for 5 minutes until the sauce has a gravylike consistency, but isn’t too thick. Thin with a little more broth or water, if necessary. Season with salt to taste.
5. For the allioli, put egg yolks and garlic in a mortar or small bowl and whisk together. (Alternatively, use a mini food processor or stick blender, see note.) Add oil a few drops at a time, whisking vigorously with each addition. As the sauce thickens, add olive oil a teaspoon at a time. If the aioli gets too thick, whisk in 1 tablespoon water, then continue to whisk in remaining oil. The finished sauce should have the consistency of softly whipped cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. When potatoes are ready, use spatula to transfer to a pan lined with paper towels to blot, then to a warm serving dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve warm with the two sauces.
Tips: To make in a blender or food processor, use 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk instead of only yolks. Drizzle oil in a thin stream with motor running until the sauce thickens, which takes only a minute or so. Transfer to a small bowl, then thin with a little water and season with salt and pepper.
Recipe: Potato Salad With Capers and Anchovies
Serve this zesty room-temperature potato salad on its own with crisp lettuce or arugula leaves on the side, or alongside meats from the grill, a roasted chicken or any type of fish. The dressing is essentially a well-seasoned vinaigrette, enhanced with Dijon mustard, capers, a little garlic and a few chopped anchovies. Red onion, thyme leaves and chopped parsley complete the picture — in all, a very simple dish. The key is to dress the potato slices very carefully with your hands, in order to coat them well and to keep them from breaking. It is a potato salad you’ll grow to love, best eaten within hours of assembling (but perfectly serviceable the next day.)
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 pounds medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, like Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn
- 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
- 1 tablespoon chopped anchovy (about 4 fillets)
- 1 tablespoon small capers (or large capers, roughly chopped)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 3 hard-boiled eggs (8- to 9-minute eggs), for garnish
- A handful of arugula leaves, for garnish (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes are firm but easily pierced with a skewer, about 20 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, put the red onion, vinegar and a healthy pinch of salt. Stir together, then let sit for 10 minutes, so onion softens and pickles slightly. Add the garlic, anchovy, capers and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins with a paring knife. Carefully slice 1/4-inch thick, or slightly thicker. Put the slices in a wide, low bowl and season lightly with salt. Pour the vinaigrette over. Using your hands, gently coat the potato slices with the vinaigrette, taking care not to break them. Set aside at room temperature to let the salad absorb the dressing.
4. Just before serving, add thyme leaves and parsley and gently toss the potato slices again. (Some of the vinaigrette will have settled to the bottom of the bowl.) Garnish with halved or quartered hard-cooked egg and arugula leaves, if using.
And to Drink …
The usual rule for pairing wine and food is to look at the flavorings. But this dish comes with two very different sauces, in which case my own rule is to disregard them both and go with what you most want to drink (providing it won’t clash). Personally, I would be salivating for fino sherry. It’s a natural companion to tapas dishes, and should go really well with whichever sauce you choose. Another option would be good cava — sparkling wine goes wonderfully with fried potatoes. You don’t have to limit yourself to Spanish sparkling wine, though. Any dry wine will work. You could drink a godello or albariño with this if you wanted a white, and maybe a young Rioja crianza for a red. — Eric Asimov