Sunday, December 28, 2008

The New Christmas Potatoes

The thing about holiday meals, it seems to me, is that it is so easy to fall into a food rut. In the name of tradition, we decide not to venture from the dishes we're used to making for any given holiday. Case in point: my first Thanksgiving as cook. Everyone has come to expect certain foods when eating Thanksgiving dinner at my house, regardless of who's (wo)manning the kitchen. Thus I felt I could make no substitutions to previous years' menus. Additions, yes, but serious revisions, no. Does that happen to you?

The same thing seems to happen with Christmas. (Though I must admit that I can easily fit into the character of enabler of food tradition/repetition. I never make potatoes savoyard, for example, so I look forward to eating them every Christmas Eve at my aunt and uncle's house.) We usually have Christmas Day at my house. We usually have a ham. We usually have the candied sweet potatoes that my grandma likes; the seemingly holiday-ubiquitous mashed potatoes; the 7-Up Jell-O salad my mom remembers from nearly every Christmas in her life; some steamed vegetable, with or without lemon butter or Hollandaise; and the egg bread that essentially serves as my cousin's entire Christmas meal, as well as his stocking stuffer the night before.

Well, most of that happened this year. When I got home following fall semester finals, my mom was planning her Christmas Day buffet, a task that should be easy when the entire menu is essentially set. But then she started thinking about the potatoes: we'd just had a ton of regular mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, let's not be too repetitive; we couldn't make potatoes savoyard because we always have them Christmas Eve; we needed to be careful not to repeat the potatoes my mom's sister would serve at her dinner on Christmas Eve; so what to do? I consulted Nigella, of course.

The end result, I must say, was fantastic. Not too much of a change from mashed potatoes to wreak holiday havoc, but different enough in execution, taste, and texture to keep things interesting. I wholeheartedly encourage little holiday tradition rebellions like this one. Although, if they all turn out as tasty as these potatoes did, you might be marking the end of one tradition with the beginning of another.

Smashed Potato Gratin
from Feast by Nigella Lawson

5 lb all-purpose potatoes, + 1 potato for insurance
6 c whole milk
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 stick celery
8 scallions
2 sticks butter
4 tbsp semolina

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter two shallow roasting pans (we used a 9"x13" and a smaller casserole).
Peel and chop the potatoes and cut them into approximately 1/2"x1 1/4" chunks. Put them into a saucepan with the milk, salt, celery, whole scallions, pepper, and 1 1/2 sticks butter. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Fish out the celery and scallions. If you cooked your potatoes in a large pot, it's easiest to lightly mash them in the pot before pouring them into the perpared roasting pans. Otherwise transfer the potatoes to the pans than then mash. You can leave the pans made up to this point to sit for a while.
When you are ready to put the potatoes into the oven, sprinkle over the semolina and dot with the remainging butter. Cook the smashed potato gratin for 30 minutes or until hot through and beginning to catch and scorch in parts on the top.
Serves at least 12.

1 comment:

Amy's Mom said...

These potatoes were absolutely delicious! It worked out great that they could be made ahead up to the last step. To top it all off, they warmed up beautifully in the microwave and were just as delicious as leftovers. These will be a new tradition at our house.