Before I say anything else, I need to thank you for your encouragement on the last post. When I wrote it, I did it for myself, to say out loud and to the Internet that I wanted to practice intentionality in this space. I figured that way, next time I found myself fixated on photography or recipe indexes or Sitemeter, I would have a published reminder to come back to, a post to point out my purpose, to remind me I’m here to share my stories, whatever does or doesn’t come with that. I swear I didn’t write it so you would pat me on the back and tell me I’m awesome and that I should keep going. In fact, reading through the comments, I almost couldn’t take your kind words. It seems while I’ve spent a lot of the last few years wondering about my focus in this space, you guys have discerned it all along. You are the greatest gift of this place. I don’t know what else to say but thank you. Thank you.
Now, continuing with the theme of things I’ve wrestled with: potatoes. It’s not that I don’t like potatoes; I do. Like most of you, I grew up eating baked potatoes and mashed potatoes, French fries and hash browns. When hasselbacks emerge from the oven, crusty and golden, garlicky and soft, I’ll be the first to spoon half a dozen to my plate. I’m nuts about au gratin, that sloppy, creamy potato casserole plumped full with butter, milk and several different kinds of cheese—you and I both know that’s pure comfort on a plate. And if it’s Chanukah and you bring latkes, you’ll make me one happy girl—in fact, that’s true if it’s Chanukah or not.
But all these facts notwithstanding, in this household, we hardly ever buy potatoes. I think the last time they were in my grocery cart was circa 2010, and as strange as that sounds when you consider my earlier admissions, the reason’s pretty simple. It comes down to two words:
Because when I’m standing in the produce section, faced with the choice of either a bag of hearty Idahos or their long and orange counterparts, the sweet potatoes win every time (well, the sweet potatoes or the yams, to be more clear, because the differences between the two have never struck me as important enough to change the way I use them). Sweet potatoes can be used almost interchangeably in traditional potato recipes: as fries, in roasted rounds, mashed, in casseroles, as latkes, baked whole. What’s more, they do much more—add them to smoothies! roast and puree them instead of pumpkin in pie!—and their nutritional profile is so rich: beta carotene! vitamin C! antioxidants! anti-inflammatory! helpful in regulating blood sugar!
Still though, sometimes, looking at the jewel yams or purple sweet potatoes in my shopping bag and thinking of the white potatoes that have been overlooked, I can’t help feeling a little like I’m watching a kid not get picked for a baseball team or quietly looking the other way while a friend gets passed over for a promotion. I know, rationally, that outside of my little universe, the traditional potato is far from underappreciated, but still, just knowing how often I pass them by sends my maternal instincts to work. Comparisons can be so unfair. Nobody likes to be left out. Ask any writer: rejection stinks. Furthermore, it’s not like I’m talking about a jelly doughnut or a beer-battered onion ring, here. Potatoes are whole foods!
So when our CSA delivers Tennessee-grown heirloom fingerlings and about a dozen new potatoes in our biweekly box, the part of me that roots for underdogs rejoices. See, Potatoes, I think while I stack them in the pantry, we do like you, too!
And then, since the return of potatoes to our kitchen warrants something special and celebratory, something both pretty to look at and delightful to eat, we make a tian: a combination of thinly sliced rounds with sauteed onions and garlic, chicken broth, Pecorino and a slow bake. Delicately arranged into what looks almost like a flower or a bloom, the tian takes its place at the table like the supper star.
Sure, you could do the same thing with sweet potatoes, but today, at least today, we don’t.
New Potato Tian
Makes 4-6 servings
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 new potatoes, sliced thinly
1/2 cup chicken stock
8 to 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 to 2 ounces Pecorino cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Once warm and melted, add onion, letting the slices turn translucent. Add garlic. Cook until golden and caramelized. Add onion-garlic mixture to the bottom of a medium baking dish (I used an oval) and spread out as much as you can.
Next place the sliced potatoes in the dish, in one single layer, arranging them into a circular pattern. Once you have it the way you like, pour chicken stock all over the top. Add the leaves of the thyme. Salt and pepper liberally all over. Cover everything with cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil or parchment and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover, drizzle olive oil over the top, and return to oven for 10 to 20 more minutes. Remove when potatoes are fork-tender.