Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Turtle Tots
What's cooking? Smashed Potatoes

What a day we had on Sunday. Easter and the end of March duked it out all day, weather-wise, to give us the full range of lions, lambs, and bunnies. We woke to a cool and lightly overcast morning, followed by gathering clouds and eventual rain, then closing with a crystal blue canopy by late afternoon. I took an early morning walk – or at least early for me, which is around 9:30 – with house guests from New Jersey, who were so thankful to have the warm weather, they didn’t even mind the clouds.

We walked the Hike and Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake, where it appeared that much of Austin’s population had the same idea as we did. The lake used to be called Town Lake but was renamed for Lady Bird Johnson after her death, in recognition of her leadership in turning the trail from an overgrown and polluted eyesore into a centerpiece for recreational activity.

It appeared that all of nature wanted to celebrate the day with us. A flock of cormorants occupied several of the trees we passed, and dozens of ducks quacked their way around the edges of the lake. Even a couple of swans showed up. But the most fun were the turtles, which were out in amazing numbers, swimming around the shallow areas and sunning themselves on any tree branch that stuck out of the water.

Oddly enough – or maybe there's nothing at all odd about it for me – the turtles reminded me of the potatoes I made for dinner the night before. The shapes are similar, and the process is just flat out fun. Such fun that I am filing it away with other dishes I hope to make with my granddaughter once she gets a bit older. At 15 months, she’s already an avid maker of imaginary soup, which she stirs with a big wooden spoon in a skillet on the floor. Then she steps in it. We have to work on that part before we get to real food.

These Smashed Potatoes are not just fun to make – they’re tasty and amazingly flexible. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, yet without the deep frying that you know I avoid like the plague. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then add whatever spice or herb mixture suits your fancy. I’ve made them with rosemary from my garden, or Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning. Next time, I plan to sprinkle a bit of cheddar on top, and maybe serve with a tiny dollop of sour cream with chives. If you have small enough potatoes, you can even use them as hors d’oeuvres.

If you come up with a different flavoring or topping that you like, please let me know. Am thinking now about something with bacon. Hmmm...

You can find a few variations on this recipe just by Googling “smashed potatoes.” Some call for frying, some are – in the Kitchen Goddess’s view – indistinguishable from mashed potatoes, and some look just like mine. I’d never heard of them until recently, so maybe you haven’t either.

Smashed Potatoes

2 pounds new potatoes, size C (about 1½-2 inches in diameter)
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pans
salt and pepper
herb choices:
■rosemary, with or without thyme, with or without minced garlic
■Italian seasoning with grated Parmesan cheese
Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning (features freeze-dried shallots, chives, and scallions)
■cajun seasoning with grated cheddar cheese

Put potatoes into a large saucepan with water to cover about 1 inch and 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to allow potatoes to simmer until you can easily pierce one with a knife tip (about 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 400ยบ. Prepare 1-2 rimmed baking pans by greasing them generously with olive oil. If you prefer, you can line them with baker’s parchment instead, but as much as I love baker’s parchment, I haven’t found the need for it with this recipe.

When the potatoes are done, drain them and lay them on a clean dish towel just until they are cool enough to touch.

Take another dishtowel, folded in half, and place one or two potatoes at a time about one-third of the way across, then fold the rest of the towel over the potatoes and press down gently on each potato

with either the palm of your hand or with the bottom of a glass. Some cooks suggest using a potato masher. Use whatever works for you. You want to flatten the potatoes to a thickness of about ⅜-½ inch. And don’t worry if they break into two pieces.

Move the flattened potatoes to the baking pan and drizzle the oil over all. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add whatever spice or herb mixture you like, and bake another 25 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess note:
One thing that makes these potatoes so wonderful is that you can take them to the flattened stage and then refrigerate them for baking later – even the next day! If you plan to refrigerate them for any length of time, cover them well with Saran Wrap so they don’t dry out.

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