Thursday, August 26, 2004


And so I return to the embrace of Pasta e Verdura with this old fave, which I decided to make mainly because I wanted to use the thyme and rosemary I’ve been growing on the patio. This is a hearty recipe and quite unique, not something I ever would have come up with on my own, nor have I seen anything like it elsewhere. And it’s very good, as things involving crispy, garlicky, herby potatoes and creamy cheese tend to be. My only real complaint is that it’s time-consuming, as you have to boil the potatoes before you can fully get started, and everything always seems to take me longer than Jack Bishop thinks it should. Somehow this sucked up all my energy last night, so that making and eating food was about all I accomplished with my evening. But why regret that when the food is this yummy?

2 medium baking potatoes (about 11⁄4 pounds)
salt to taste, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, oregano, thyme, or rosemary (or preferably a combination of several of these)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound penne pasta

1. Start by bringing several quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan to cook the potatoes. While it's heating, scrub them well under cold running water (you don’t have to peel them). When the water boils, add the whole potatoes and some salt to it and let that cook until the potatoes are soft but not mushy. Jack says “a fork should slide easily into the center.” Jack also says this cooking should take 15-20 minutes, but it always seems to take me longer. (I have trouble getting a perfect consistency of cooked potato; either the center is still white and crunchy or the outside disintegrates when I cut into it. I prefer to err on the side of tenderness, and hence the extra cooking time.)

2. When the potatoes are done, drain them and put them on the cutting board to cool enough to touch. While that's happening, fill a larger pot (about 4 quarts) with salted water for cooking the pasta and put it on the stove to boil. Then put the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet and set it on the stove over medium-high heat. While it heats, cut the potatoes as best you can into 1⁄2-inch cubes. (Most of the skin always seems to come off during this process, and I usually discard it, but you don’t have to take extra care to remove it. Pan-fried potato skin is good.)

3. When the oil is good and hot, add the potatoes and garlic to the pan and fry them, using a spatula to turn them often, until the potatoes are crisp and golden brown on all sides. Jack says “about 15 minutes,” but again, it takes a little longer when I do it (or maybe I was just so hungry at this point that it seemed longer). When the potatoes are browned, add the herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper and cook everything another minute or so, tossing the potatoes to season them evenly. When they're all done, mix them in a large bowl with the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses.

4. Meanwhile, when the pasta water boils, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it. Reserve 1⁄2 cup of the cooking water before you drain it. Add 1⁄4 cup of that water to the potato-cheese mixture to thin it. Drain the pasta and return it to the empty pot (or put it in the cheese-potato bowl if it’s big enough). Toss the hot pasta with the potato-cheese sauce, adding more cooking liquid as needed (I usually end up using the full 1⁄2 cup, since this isn’t the moistest sauce). Mix well and you’re done.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour

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