probationary potatoes

I’ve been put on couch potato status until further notice. If it were anything other than my eye at stake, I might rise up and revolt. This is not a good time of year to be relegated to the couch. The peas and radishes and sweet onions are begging to be planted. My bees are flying, madly in search of a pollen source. I am dying to take a peek in their hives and rearrange their furniture a bit. But, I promised my eye surgeon I wouldn’t. I’m not saying she didn’t trust me, but she did feel the need to go ahead and deputize my husband Mark to keep me in check. I’m sunk.
I’m doing my best to embrace the situation. I’ve pulled out my flannel sleeping bag and my Hello Kitty pillow to make a giant nest in the sofa. The only problem is that I typically have to jockey with Hoops for a spot. The coffee table is stocked with magazines and cookbooks – all within easy reach. I don’t read long before my eyes prefer to drift shut and rest, but still, it’s a comfort to know that they’re there.
Sunday afternoon though I managed to keep my eyes open for a bit. And I must have been feeling a little vindictive because I realized I was perusing indexes specifically for potato recipes. If I was going to be deemed a couch potato, then I was going to cook potatoes. Try and stop me. But I didn’t want to make just any old potato dish. I wanted fancy potatoes. I was just about to give up and settle for good old-fashioned Bangers and Mash when I came across an entry under potoatos in Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty for Surprise Tatin. This sounded encouraging.
Ottolenghi calls for baby new potatoes, cherry tomatoes, fresh oregano, and hard goat cheese. I didn’t have any of these, but I did happen to know that the last of our summer potato crop was still underground, waiting to be dug. Years ago we discovered (quite by accident) that this is a nice solution to our limited root crop storage problem. We dig half of the hills in the fall, and leave the rest in the ground for a spring treat. The snow cover keeps them toasty enough and just like with carrots, parsnips and rutabagas, the kiss of cold sweetens them up perfectly. As for the rest of the ingredients, I always keep a big jar of dried Sun Gold cherry tomatoes in the pantry that I figured would work just fine. No oregano, but the thyme plant – always an over achiever – is already spreading and sporting new spring leaves. And I had some firm goat milk feta in the fridage that I could slice up. I was in business.
I sent the deputy outside with the pitch fork and the colander and wrangled myself out of the couch. Delving further into the recipe I discovered that Ottolenghi actually has you semi-dry the tomatoes in the oven anyway. Perfect – a little hot water over the Sun Golds and I would be good to go. I think you could use just about any type of tomato – dried, oven roasted, oil packed form a jar, even fresh as long as they have a low moisture content.
The best thing about this tart is the wonderful flavor combinations. Sweet, tangy, rich, and earthy all blended together in a delicate shell. Mark said he felt like Remy from Ratatouille with little firework explosions going off in his mouth as he ate. But the second best part of the recipe is that even though it sounds fancy, and looks fancy, it really is quite simple to make. Don’t let the length of the recipe fool you. Fry some onions, boil some spuds, prep the tomatoes and you’re basically set. The only mildly fussy step is making the caramel glaze for the bottom of the tart and even that takes all of 2 minutes (and 2 minutes well worth it!) An effortless puff pastry sheet for the crown and in the oven it goes. I made sort of a hodgepodge salad to accompany the tart, but I think some simply dressed bitter greens like arugula or endive would be dynamite.
Who knew couch potato probation could be so decadent? Maybe I’ll even miss it, but I doubt it. I am glad to report that the eye surgery itself went very well. Now I’m in a post-surgery waiting game, trying to be patient and let Ma Nature work her magic. Friday is my first visit back for a check. It’s wishful thinking I know, but I’m hoping to get an early release for good behavior.
Couch Potato Tart
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

1 1/4 pounds small potatoes (skins on)
1 large onion, cut into small wedges
1 heaping cup cherry tomatoes (see note)
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1-2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
5 ounces firm feta or other hard goat cheese
4 tablespoons sugar, plus 1 additional tablespoon butter
1 puff pastry sheet
salt and pepper
parchment paper

Note: for the tomatoes, you can substitute a large handful of dried cherry tomatoes, reconstituted in hot water, or a small jar of oil-packed, sun dried tomatoes. If using fresh cherry or roma tomatoes, halve (or quarter if they are large) and put them skin side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper over the tops. Bake in a 250º F oven for about 45 minutes until the are dry and gooey.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain and cool. Trim the very tops and bottoms of the potatoes off and slice them into 3/4″ thick discs.

Slowly saute the onion in the butter or olive oil until the onions are slightly brown and caramelized. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Brush the bottom of a 8 1/2 or 9 inch tart or pie pan with a bit of olive oil and cut a parchment paper circle to fit the bottom.

In a small heavy saucepan, cook the sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter over high heat, stirring constantly until it turns into a rich carmel color sauce. This will only take about 2 minutes. Be careful not to take it so far that it hardens and cracks. Pour the caramel into the bottom of the tart pan and carefully spread it around the base of the pan.

Scatter the individual thyme leaves over the caramel. Next arrange the potato discs, cut side down to fill the tart pan (you can leave just a teeny bit of space along the outside rim of the pan to accommodate the puff pastry lid). Press the tomatoes and onions in and around the potato gaps. Sprinkle the whole thing generously with salt and pepper. Then lay the sliced goat cheese on top of the potatoes. Roll the puff pastry sheet so that it is about an inch larger than your pan. Drape it over the top and gently tuck the sides of the crust down into the pan, around the potatos.

Bake the tart in a hot 400º F oven for 25 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350º F for an additional 15 minutes of baking. The pastry should be golden brown and cooked through. Remove it from the oven and put the tart pan on a clean plate or baking sheet. Let it settle for 2 minutes. Then take another plate, put it face down on the tart, pick up the whole shebang and flip it over (the first plate keeps you from having to handle the hot tart pan directly). Lift off the pan and you are ready to serve. Hot or warm.

Serves 4 to 6.

2 Responses to “probationary potatoes”

  1. 1 Judy Kaster April 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Glad your surgery went well, Jill. Hope you get a good result. In the meantime, be a good girl and enjoy the couch.

    We tried a new potato recipe for Easter dinner; lots of cream and Boursin cheese. Not exactly low-cal, but it was a big hit! Needed more pepper though.

  1. 1 garlic report | Garlic Pig Trackback on May 17, 2013 at 11:10 am

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