Do you make rules for yourself? I started to write this post, and then realized that I might sound a little crazy, talking about lists of rules I self-enforce. I don’t mean self-denial or masochism. They’re silly rules, but they’re useful. For instance, there is a growing list of publications I’m no longer allowed to read on the train home, because I am statistically more likely to stop at the grocery store and impulse-buy ingredients for recipes that I need to have if I read them. No looking at the Anthropologie catalogue, ever (for similar reasons). No drinking an entire bottle of red wine by myself on a Sunday. I’m joking about the last one. Sort of.Similarly, there is a list of states in which I should not allow myself to go to a farmer’s market. There was that time I was starved for color during a week of grey days and bought radishes just because they were so rosy. Or the time I got peach-drunk on the promise of summer and brought home a bushel of peaches. Then, when summer was waning, I became a bit obsessive about wringing the last drops out of the season, and bought every single forlorn, split tomato from a farmstand. I am a woman that needs a little structure, if nothing else, for the sake of my budget.Then, there are certain dishes that rules dictate only be made out of leftovers, too. Fried rice, for instance. No matter how much I want it, I won’t cook a pot of rice just for the sake of making it into fried rice. In my head, fried rice is made from leftover rice, full stop. And so it happens that I found myself, post-Thanksgiving, searching refrigerators of friends and family for leftover mashed potatoes to make mashed potato pancakes, another dish that, rules-wise, must be made from leftovers. But there were no leftover mashed potatoes to be found. Predictably, this became one of those instances where the sheer absence of something provoked a near-obsessive craving for it. I was saved by my RSS reader. I always love Yotam Ottolenghi’s weekly Guardian column, but that week, something pretty magical happened—the column featured a recipe for spice-stuffed potato cakes. I was saved from the rule! If Ottolenghi can boil potatoes just for the purpose of turning them into little pan-fried cakes, then I certainly can. What followed was a my-pantry version of the recipe, focusing on lemon and herbs instead of spices. They are pan-fried, and yes, you could probably find some way to bake rather than fry them, but I like them this way, dark-golden and crisp outside, creamy and savory inside, nestled into a bed of arugula or other greens. Breaking the rules can be so good.
Herb-stuffed potato cakes
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s column in the Guardian, 25 November 2011
The first time I made these, I skipped the refrigeration step—big mistake. Chilling the cakes helps them stay together better when they hit the hot oil. These are also wonderful the next day with a poached egg on top.
You will need
- 4 or 5 medium starchy potatoes, cubed (I used red-skinned potatoes and left the skins on because I detest peeling potatoes; the result was actually pretty)
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chives, roughly chopped
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, pounded to a paste
- In a large pot, bring the cubed potatoes to a boil. Reduce to a rapid simmer and cook until very, very tender, 15-20 minutes.
Remove potatoes from heat and drain them. Mash with a potato masher, or run them through a potato ricer. Salt to taste. If the mixture seems crumbly and not coherent, add a little water and mix it in.
In another bowl, mix parsley, chives, lemon zest, olive oil, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt, too. This should form a sticky, but not pasty mixture.
If the potatoes have cooled enough (if not, let them cool a bit longer), take a small handful in your hands and form a ball. With one thumb, make a deep indentation in the ball of potato. Into this indentation press about 1 teaspoon of the herb mixture. Close the potato ball around the herb mixture, sealing it inside. Then, place the ball on a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Repeat with the remaining potatoes and herb mixture.
Put the baking sheet in the refrigerator and allow to chill 20-40 minutes.
On medium-high, heat enough canola oil in a large skillet to cover the bottom completely. When the oil shimmers, add several of the potato cakes to the oil. (If the oil doesn’t crackle and dance, it’s not hot enough.) Do not move the potato cakes for 3-4 minutes, until you are ready to flip them. Flip, cook another 3-4 minutes, and then transfer to a plate. Repeat for the rest of the potato cakes, adding more oil if necessary to the skillet.
To serve, place a bed of arugula on a plate, and lay a few of the potato cakes over it, and serve with lemon wedges.