Friday, July 18, 2008

Smashed pesto potatoes

Again with these little potatoes! Using basically the same process as the original smashed and crisped potato that I have been working on for a few weeks, I thought of a new variation. Ali and Nik were here for dinner and they're trying to eat healthier, so there was deserved suspicion about the potato crisps. What? They just roll around in a ton of butter is all. Anyway, I thought maybe a version less reliant on butter and cheese for crispy goodness might be in order, also I have just gotten a new basil plant. It's sort of different looking--not so much your typical basil with bright jade green leaves, but paler and with white stripes. But it is amazingly fragrant, so I thought I'd give it a shot, maybe mixed with some parsley for more of the bright green color.

"Pesto" really just means pounded or crushed. In of itself, it doesn't imply basil, pine nuts or any of the traditional ingredients. Pesto alla genovese is what we think of as pesto--originating from in or around the city of Genoa, Italy, and consisting of basil, salt, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and (usually) grated Parmesan. This is more-or-less the type of pesto I made for the potatoes, although I toasted my pine nuts first, which isn't typical. But pesto may be any herb-nut combination pounded together and bound with oil or cheese--or not! It's pretty flexible. Maybe I'll try making some exotic variant soon and that will be interesting. I used 3 small cloves minced garlic, a handful of pine nuts (some more toasty than others, oops), salt, a handful of my interesting new basil, chopped, a handful of standard issue flat-leaf parsley, chopped and 2 tablespoons good olive oil. I use a mortar and pestle to make my pesto, because I like using one (it's pretty!) and also because I have no food processor. Grind it all up... ...after a few minutes it is pounded or crushed into paste. Voila, pesto. Then there is a bit of parmesan shaved in at the end.Boil up however many small potatoes as you want to have for dinner until they are at that tender-firm stage, not crumbling apart when you press on them. This takes me about 10 minutes, but I check them often. Cool them to a point where you can handle them without playing hot potato, and squash the tops down with a fork to create a space for delicious pesto topping. You might want to dig them out a little bit too, to make a little pesto nesto. Melt 1 tablespoon olive oil with just a little butter in the bottom of a baking dish and brush the potatoes, then set them evenly in the dish. Spoon in a teaspoon or so of pesto per potato, eyeballing it so you equally distribute throughout. Bake them at 400 for about 10-12 minutes, checking on them to ensure they are golden brown, delicious and crispy.

A quick aside is that along with the pesto potatoes, I also made chicken with garlic. I have posted the recipe before and it is easy-peasy; however I didn't have pictures on the blog then. It is simply pieces of chicken browned, then you brown an enormous quantity of whole-clove garlic in the same pot. Then the chicken is stacked on top of the garlic, and it is all left to cook up together to fragrant perfection in a mixture of white wine and chicken stock. You can get details on the whole recipe here, but that's really all there is to it.

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