Monday, November 19, 2007

Aegean Baked Potatoes with Lemon, Olive Oil, & Sea Salt - a Recipe

Hello again! Thanks for your patience while I took a quick break to sharpen both my knives and my wits. It’s great to be getting back into the swing of things just as the holiday season is kicking off here in New York – this is truly my favorite time of year.

And it was lovely to be welcomed back the other day with an email from Charlotte of The Great Big Vegetable Challenge. I’m always happy to see her name in my inbox, and this time she wanted to know if I had any jacket potato recipes I’d like to share for her and Freddie’s round up. I adore jacket potatoes, or baked potatoes as we call them here in the States – far less imaginative of us, I know. And as it so happens, there is a simple, perfectly addictive Greek method for preparing them that I revel in this time of year.

The Ottomans, who ruled most of Greece from the mid 15th century until the early 19th century, brought potatoes to the region. But they didn't fully infiltrate the culinary lexicon until the British moved into the region shortly thereafter. In spite of this, I must admit that when I taste the incredibly nuanced flavors that Greece’s terrain imparts to its tubers or sample preparations as rustic and heavenly as this one, it can be hard to believe they haven’t been grown there since the days of Odysseus himself.

Lemon juice and olive oil has to be one of my favorite combinations of all time, and it’s one I’ve been served all over Greece on everything from football-sized squid to cold cheese sandwiches. The pairing never disappoints, and here, with the addition of some good sea salt and a touch of freshly ground black pepper, it raises the russet potatoes to their deliciously fragrant, juicy, and twangily earthy height.

Potatoes tend to be harvested at the same time as the olives in Greece, and I'll never forget the first time I tasted these dressed with freshly-pressed local olive oil, straight from the village mill. Back home, just try to use the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on. Thanks for the excuse to post these, Charlotte!

Serves 4

4 large russet or other thickly-skinned floury potatoes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
juice of 2 - 3 lemons
good sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Wash the potatoes thoroughly and pierce their skins in several places with the tip of a sharp knife. Place them directly on the center rack in a cold oven – there’s no need to wrap them in foil. Turn on the oven to 350 F and bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours until the potatoes are tender and give gently when you squeeze them. Remove the potatoes from the oven.

Just before serving, slit each potato down the middle with a sharp knife – careful not to cut all the way through. Being gentle so as not to tear the skins, scoop out the flesh of the potatoes and place in a medium bowl. Working fairly quickly to keep the potatoes hot, season very generously with plenty of good olive oil (I use ½ a cup), the juice of 2 of the lemons, and a good amount of sea salt and black pepper. Stir with a fork, being careful not to overwork, just until the oil and lemon are absorbed – you’re not going for a smooth consistency at all here. Be sure to taste the potatoes and correct the seasoning with more oil, lemon, salt, or pepper as desired. You may be surprised by how much you need of all 4 seasonings.

Drizzle the inside of each potato skin with a little more olive oil, spritz with any remaining lemon juice, and sprinkle with some salt. Spoon the seasoned potato back into the skins, finish with a final drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of sea salt, and serve immediately while still hot.


winedeb said...

Welcome Back Amanda! Not being in front of your computer every day sometimes is a good thing. We all need a break once in awhile. I know how these blogs can be addictive - I love them!
Never thought about putting just lemon and olive oil on baked potatoes. I am a butter person and slather those babies as soon as I split them open. But next time, on one of the halves, I will try your suggestion!
Glad you are back!

David Hall said...

Welcome back, hope them knives are sharp! Nice to see your absence has not weakened the sharpness of your recipes, what a lovely baked tattie. I love lemon and olive oil too, love the way the Greeks combine them with potatoes and oregano, I often do this with wedges.


Ilva said...

I love this idea, it sounds perfect!

Simona said...

Very interesting use of lemon juice. I will try it out.

Great Big Vegetable Challenge said...

Freddie and I think your recipe sounds delicious so we will try it out this weekend.
Nice to have you back on the blog. There is something so enjoyable about your posts.
Thank you

Wendy said...

Welcome back, Amanda! :)

Farmgirl Susan said...

So nice to have you back! And with another simple, delicious sounding recipe of course. Hooray! xo

Figs Olives Wine said...

Winedeb, thank you! You know, when I was young, I used to love my potatoes with lemon butter. If you're a real butter person - and I completely back you here - then maybe sub melted butter for the oil. It'll be divine! Let me know...

David, thank you! The knives are so damn sharp I have to have a serious word with myself before I pick them up. I don't think they've been in this good shape since the first term of culinary school - how shameful is that? Hopefully I won't need so many band aids as I did then - humiliating ;) Those wedges you mention are some of my favorites too! So traditional and so perfect in their simplicity. Thanks for reminding me about them!

Ilva, thank you! It's so nice to hear you like the recipe, and I hope you'll enjoy it!

Simona, thanks! I look forward to hearing what you think. Lemon with potatoes is one of my absolute favorites.

Charlotte, thanks, and thanks again for inviting me to join in! I'm glad you like the recipe - really hope Freddie and Alex approve, but I must admit the competition is pretty steep this time around!

Wendy, thanks! It's great to be back. Missed you all.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Susan, oops! I think we posted right at the same time. Thanks so much again for all the advice about the break. It did me so much good, I can't even tell you. So lovely to hear from you xo

Lucy said...

Glad you're back Amanda - you have been missed. Getting away from the computer is amazingly reviving, I must say.

What a come-back recipe! That is a stunning, but typically 'simple' combination of flavours. What is it about lemons, good oil and potatoes? Smell heavenly whilst cooking too.

It's amazing to think that the Old World has only recently (well, 500 years...) had access to potatoes - they are such an integral part of so many cuisines.

Maryann@FindingLaDolceVita said...

Hi Amanda,
It's nice to see you back. I hope you had a nice break. I love this potato recipe. I like the non smooth's how we do it here at home. Your recipes are always so good!

swirlingnotions said...

Oh I'm so glad you're back Amanda!

This looks lovely . . . it kind of reminds me of skordalia without the garlic. They'd be wonderful with salt cod fritters and an horiatiki.

Anh said...

Welcome back! And what a lovely recipe you have given us. Will defenitely try this out.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Hi Amanda! Welcome back, I sure missed your posts! :) This recipe sounds wonderful. You just can't go wrong with olive oil and lemon! I will have to try this next time!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, thank you! It's so, so good to get away from the old laptop, isn't it? Makes me realize how much healthier life can be - balance is so important.
The potato thing is so fascinating isn't it? All those dishes (ie: patatas bravas) that seem to have been part of a culture forever are actually very new. But New World cuisines have been using them for millenia. I love this stuff.

Maryann, thanks so much! It's great to hear from you, and I did have a lovely break! I'm so pleased to hear you're in agreement about the texture. I, for one, really do like to get a chunk of potato flesh here and there. It's an opportunity to really taste the vegetable - and they still have so much flavor this time of year.

Swirlingnotions, thanks! It's great to hear from you, and I loved your braisy chain! Your site's looking so gorgeous these days.
The skordalia thing came to my mind when I was writing this too! And I've actually been contemplating using leftovers to make fish cakes. It's high time I did something on skordalia - did you know they consider it a sleep aid over in Greece? Anything with that quantity of garlic is used to treat insomnia. I could never tell whether I was feeling knocked out from garlic consumption or from sheer gluttony - knowing me it was the latter ; )

Anh, thank you so much! I'm so pleased you like this - you must let me know if you make it.

Jenn, aren't you lovely to say so! Thank you! Let me know if you make these - it's one of my favorite flavor combinations too!

Gloria said...

I'm happy you return Amanda. You are welcomme and all miss you a lot !!!I like these potatoes's recipe, Thanks , Gloria

Joanne Rendell said...

baked spuds. i'm in heaven just at the thought of one!

Laurie Constantino said...

Interesting post, delicious sounding recipe.

I have one question though, and that is about the introduction of the potato in Greece. You say first the Ottomans brought them in, and then the British.

I'm interested because I have often heard that it was Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Governor of Greece after its liberation from Turkey. The country was in pretty sad shape at the time, and Kapodistrias supposedly brought in the potato to provide a cheap source of food.

The story goes that Greek farmers, being a conservative and suspicious lot, showed no interest in planting this strange-looking, untried vegetable. Kapodistrias responded by steeply raising the price of potatoes and placing them under guard, leading the populace to think they were being denied a precious commodity.

Kapodistrias issued instructions to the guards that if someone was seen trying to steal the potatoes, to look the other way. Many were stolen and planted, and potatoes soon spread throughout Greece.

This may be apocryphal, but it is a good story. Even so, if you have information that it was the Ottomans who brought in potatoes, I'll stop repeated the story as something potentially factual.

Thanks for any insight you can provide!

Laurie Constantino said...

Oh! I just read the other comments. Coincidentally, I recently posted recipes for Greek fish cakes using leftover halibut, and for celery root skordalia that we had at the same time. It must be the season!

Mercedes said...

Lemon and Olive oil, so classic it barely even counts as a pairing, more like natural-born partners. Add crushed garlic and you've got the base for just about every Lebanese recipe.
Anyway, it looks delicious. And jacket potatoes are my new favorite cooking term!

Cynthia said...

Dearest! It is great to have you back! Just the other day I was saying, "wait, these knives taking a really long time to sharpen." :D

I love the simplicity of this combo, will definitely give it a try.

Susan in Italy said...

Gosh, I can imagine how that tastes, so rich and yet soo not bad for you. Great idea.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Welcome back! These look absolutely delicious. You've been missed.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Such delicious ingredients ought to be wonderful together - love this dish, Amanda!

Columbia Foodie said...

This is a great way to update the baked potato!

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