Friday, October 14, 2011

Side Dishes: Potato Stacks

I’m always looking for something new to do with potatoes. I oven roast the small ones—the ones that are about the size of a ping pong ball--whole with some olive oil, I mash russets, I slice Yukon Golds thin and cook them with a little cream and some Gruyere cheese for a gratin. I’ve also cooked the small potatoes in boiling water, smashed them, and roasted the smashed potatoes. Sooner or later, though, I just can’t face another potato, roasted, mashed or gratineed. Enter this recipe. But there’s something distinctive about this recipe, or rather, about its name.
Sometimes a family has a name for something that other people would find unpleasant or even downright gross. My grandmother used to call every fairly sticky, globy food “goop.” At the dinner table she’d hold up a serving spoon full of something like macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes and ask, “Would anyone care for more goop?”
What always made this unfortunate was that's what she called what came out of your nose too. My mother always had a particular dislike for this reference, as she said the association always took her appetite away.
My grandmother’s reference was a sort of all-purpose one. Ours is more specific. We have this recipe--we call it potato piles. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but really potato piles (or potato stacks, to use the term we use around company) are quite wonderful. The reason we don’t call them potato stacks in our day to day vernacular is…well, because we just don’t, but really these aren’t stacks. They really are just little piles of potato slices with some herbs and olive oil. As a result, they’re less of a recipe than a technique.
The herbs can be to your taste. Swap out sage or finely chopped rosemary, if that’s what you happen to have. Or use a combination of herbs. They can be as large or as small as you like, but for my purposes I like about piles that are an inch or so high, and spread out about 5” .They settle a bit as they cook. The higher they are, the longer they’ll take to cook, and you could end up with overdone edges and an underdone middle. The beauty of these is that you get the contrast of soft and crisp in the same dish.
One average size russet potato makes about four stacks, which can be either two servings or four, depending on what you’re serving with them. They’re easy enough that they could accompany a simple weeknight dinner, but fun and tasty enough to serve to company. And you can call them stacks or piles, depending on how proper your company is.
Potato Stacks (Potato Piles)

1 medium baking potato, peeled
1 -2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

·         Peel potato into strips
·         Toss with herbs and olive oil
·         Season
·         Pile on baking sheet covered with parchment
·         Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes
Detailed Instructions
1.     Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.     Using a vegetable peeler, remove potato in strips. Some strips will be very narrow (1/4” wide) and some will be much thicker (up to 1”). When it becomes difficult to get the strips off, either because of the position of the peeler, or because the strips are getting too wide, rotate the potato slightly, and begin on another section. As you go around, you’ll end up with something that looks like an elongated apple core. When you’re in danger of adding sliced finger to the mix, stop and discard the remaining potato. You’ll have about 3 cups of loosely packed potato strips.
3.     In a large bowl, toss the potato strips with olive oil. Add the thyme and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.
4.     Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Using tongs or your hands, make piles of potato strips about 5” across and an inch or so high. Scrape any remaining oil and herbs out of the bottom of the bowl, and distribute over piles. Scatter with a little additional salt and pepper.
5.     Bake for 15-20 minutes or until piles are golden brown. The edges will be crisped and the center will be cooked through.

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