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!
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.