Monday, May 4, 2009

The Noble Veg

I've been going on quite a bit lately about the wonders of spring, about how thrilled I am to see some leafy greens in the farmers market and how glad I am to be rid of potato and apple season. But the truth is that I adore potatoes.

Not only does the potato have a noble history of feeding broad swathes of populations cheaply and nutritiously, but there are some unbelievably delicious varieties out there. My favorite purveyor of root vegetables at the Greenmarket, Paffenroth Gardens, carries quite the impressive array. I count at least five each week. They range from fancy French fingerlings to Purple Peruvian spuds to good old Yukon Golds and with only one exception I have found each and every one of them to be a revelation.

Some taste buttery, some are nutty, and all are more complex and interesting than their reputation as a starch conveyor would imply. For ages, I would simply roast them with olive oil and salt. It was easy, healthy and I always liked the crispiness that the hot oven imparted. But everyone needs a change now and again. So when Ina Garten demonstrated a new (to me) method on her show a couple of weeks back, I was eager to give it a try.

If you've ever watched the Barefoot Contessa, it should come as no surprise to you that her method involves some butter. In fact, she suggests steaming the potatoes in butter and then throwing some herbs over the top. As you might guess, it feels a bit luxurious, tastes well, buttery (read: delicious), and provides a more refined alternative to my more rustic roasting method.

I feel that I should point out that the amount of butter is relatively small, and you only end up ingesting a small portion of it. So don't fret about your cardiac health here. You will be fine, I promise.

Ina suggests dill as her herb of choice, my personal preference is mint, but the garlic chives I used last time were quite nice as well, as is parsley. So I leave it up to long as you stick with relatively mild, leafy herbs (i.e. avoid rosemary...raw it is not particularly appetizing) it would be difficult to go wrong.

Buttery Potatoes Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

as many small potatoes as you need to feed your crowd (they should be small enough such that you don't need to cut them up)
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt to taste
herb of your choice (mint, dill, parsley, etc.), chopped

Heat a dutch oven or other heavy pot with a tight fitting lid over medium heat. Melt butter in the pot, and when foam has subsided, add potatoes. Salt to taste, and cover. Shake the pot around a bit to evenly distribute salt and butter, and then turn heat down to medium low. Be careful not to cook these too fast, as the butter burns if you have the heat on too high.

Allow to cook for approximately 25 minutes, shaking the pot two to three times during the cooking time. When potatoes are easily pierced by a fork (do not use a sharp knife can be deceptive as a sharp knife goes easily into almost everything and you can end up with a slightly underdone potato, and frankly I can think of few things worse than an underdone potato) remove from heat. Toss herbs through potatoes and serve.
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