by Douglas Abrams
We all eat them. We all know what they are. They’re the staple of the American diet, the ultimate vehicle for ketchup and grease. But there is more to potatoes that fries and homogeneously pureed slop. If you introduce some flavor and creativity, even the humble potato can be a surprise.
Start with a potato salad, but with the volume turned up. Peel five Russet potatoes and cut into small dice. Boil the chunks in salted water until the potatoes are fork tender and place them in a bowl. Here’s where things get interesting.
Take one head of fennel and separate the bulb from the leafy fronds. Cut the bulb into slices and discard the leafs. In order to impart flavor, toss the fennel with olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill until it is golden brown and cooked through.
Add the fennel to the potatoes and begin making the sauce. Combine a quarter cup of dijon mustard with a half cup of mayonnaise. Add the juice of one whole lemon, along with salt, and pepper. Toss the warm potatoes and fennel with the sauce to let the potatoes absorb all the flavors. Put the salad in the refrigerator for about an hour, to allow all the flavors to mingle.
Right before serving, mince some fresh parsley and place on top for color. This salad is delicious. The mustard and lemon impart acidity into the potatoes, boosting their flavor and making the dish light.
Besides potato salad, the next best use of potatoes is sweet potato gnocchi. Gnocchi are pillowy potato dumplings that are made by combining potatoes, flour, and cheese—easy and simple.
Boil six sweet potatoes, following the same procedure used in the salad. Mash the boiled potatoes and let them cool until you can touch them with your hands. Add about a quarter ricotta to the potatoes and about a quarter cup of grated parmesan cheese. Finally, add all purpose flour to the mixture, one spoonful at a time.
The procedure here is key. The secret to making perfect gnocchi is to add just enough flour to the potatoes to make them come together in a loose dough. Add the least amount of flour possible.
Once the dough has come together—it’s done when you can shape it with your hands and it is a light orange color—roll it into half-inch thick logs. Cut the gnocchi into little squares and boil them in salted water for three to five minutes.