Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Crispy Lemon-Herb Potatoes and a Good Carrot Recipe...

"My hope is that (eventually) you will be able to conjure up a meal with a Mediterranean flavor without feeling bound to a recipe. And when you sit down to eat do so in a happy and relaxed mood. It should be a ceremony and a celebration. The Mediterraneans have a reputation for easy-going joie de vivre and the table is the best place for you to start cultivating one." ~Claudia Roden in Mediterranean Cookery

One morning at the bed and breakfast we visited near Mount St. Helens, the cook made some pretty tasty rosemary potatoes. I like potatoes in general, I like herbs, and I liked these particular potatoes, but I thought (and so did my kids) that the rosemary potatoes we've been making at home lately are even better than these. Actually, that's not really all that surprising since the recipe is from Judy Rodgers' wonderful Zuni Cafe Cookbook. This is my favorite cookbook for helping me learn to cook (beyond basics). A person looking for a book full of everyday recipes might be disappointed in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, but for someone who loves to read cookbooks to glean as many how's and why's and wherefore's about cooking as possible, there's much to learn in this one. Plus, Judy Rodgers is a terrific writer, so the reading is nice.

I made Judy's potatoes exactly according to the recipe in her book, smashing the rosemary in my mortar and pestle before adding it to the boiled potato chunks along with the olive oil. And when the potatoes came out of the hot oven, they were delicious. Because we have loads of oregano in the herb garden, I decided to use that instead of rosemary the next time I made the potatoes. I also squeezed in some lemon juice when I added the olive oil to give it an additional Greek oregano twist. I'm not sure Judy Rodgers would approve of my changes, but I really liked how these potatoes turned out, and Aaron said he actually preferred them to the original recipe (I'm sure this has more to do with the herbs one likes than anything else).

So, here's are the potatoes with our Greek oregano-lemon spin, adapted from Judy Rodgers recipe. We love these potatoes, and they're really easy to make:

For 3 to 4 servings:

About 1-1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into irregular 1 to 1 1/2 inch chunks
Salt
A leafy sprig or two of Greek oregano
About 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2-1 lemon

Place the potatoes in a 4 qt. saucepan and add cold water to cover by a few inches. Salt liberally, stir to dissolve, and taste-- it should be well-seasoned (use a scant 1 1/2 t. sea salt per quart water). Bring to a simmer over high heat and stir again, then reduce the heat just to hold the simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft on the edges and tender inside, 6 to 12 minutes, depending on the variety of the potato and the exact size of the chunks. Drain well. Taste. The potatoes should be perfectly seasoned and delicious already. Place in a bowl while still warm.

Chop the oregano leaves. Add them to the bowl of potatoes and drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice to coat liberally. The slightly overcooked potatoes will both soak up and shed into the fat. Some of the edges or smaller pieces may even crumble, which will provide crunchy bits and pieces everyone will reach for.

Transfer the potatoes, clad in their potato-laden oil, to a wide shallow roasting pan. (If roasting potatoes for a crowd, use more than one pan, rather than pile the potatoes.) Roast til golden, rotating the pan as needed so they color evenly, 20 to 25 minutes. Because they were so moist, the potatoes may stick to the roasting pan in spots-- use a metal spatula to loosen them.

Once golden, the potatoes hold well, or even improve from holding in a 275 degree oven. To best preserve their crunchy mantle, don't stack or pile them; leave them on their roasting pan.

(To make the recipe Judy Rodgers' way-- and you should definitely try it-- omit the oregano and the lemon juice. Instead of oregano, strip a leafy sprig of fresh rosemary of its leaves, then smash and bruise them with the back of a knife (or with a mortar and pestle) before adding them to the potatoes in place of the oregano. Carry on.)

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This afternoon, I kind of threw something together for a healthy bite to eat. It took just a few minutes to make from start to finish, and I thought it was really tasty, so I'll post this along with the potato recipe. Sorry I'm not more specific with the details that follow, but I wasn't really measuring when I cooked. Actually, I'm guessing that there are recipes out there that are pretty identical to the one I made, but since I haven't seen or made those recipes before, and since I put this one together with the ingredients that were hanging around, I'll claim to have invented it myself! Nothing's new under the sun, right? :-)

I love kalamata olives, and since I had some carrots on hand from yesterday's CSA pickup, an already partially squeezed lemon half, and some leftover ground cumin, I decided to make something out of these ingredients.

So, I heated some olive oil in a pan (about 2 T.) and sauteed two minced cloves of garlic and the cumin (oh, about 1/2 t.) in the oil for 30 seconds or so. Then I tossed in two large, grated carrots (grated on the biggest holes of a grater and patted dry-ish with paper towels), sprinkled some sea salt over the carrots, and sauteed them til they were tender. This didn't take long. Then I added a small handful of kalamata olives that I'd sliced in advance. When the olives were heated through, I took the pan off the heat, and squeezed in some lemon juice (about 1/4 lemon).

I ate every morsel of this, scraping my bowl and the pan because I thought it was delicious, but then, I love every ingredient in this "dish." I'm sure I'll make it often. This could serve two, but not with me around!

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Out of curiosity, I just now flipped through some cookbooks to see if I could find a carrot recipe like the one I made, and I found almost the exact thing (minus the olives, which I really liked) in Claudia Roden's wonderful book,
Arabesque. (Hey-- maybe I'm getting closer to the kind of cooking Roden hopes for in the quote at the top of this post.) I was thinking that the "recipe" I made would be kind of Moroccan, and I was right. Roden's recipe was slightly more complicated than mine, taking longer to cook because she julienned and boiled the carrots before sautéing them, but other than that, ingredients, proportions, and cooking methods were pretty much the same.

I'll stick with my way, though, because it's simpler and faster. I can live with that. I actually really liked the carrots grated. And I'll leave the olives in the dish as well because I thought it was a tasty addition.

As I increasingly simplify my cooking, many of my favorite ingredients seem to be boiling down to what is used all the way around the Mediterranean, so maybe now that my kids are grown and gone, I'll fly the coop and head to the Mediterranean. I'll take my time, see the sights, soak up the sun, and eat my way round and round the perimeter.

Nah. I'd miss my grandkids too much (and everyone else in the family, of course!).


P.S. I made the carrots for dinner tonight so Melissa could try them, too, and her response was a quick, "Mmmmm!" :-)