A dear friend and fellow food writer/cooking teacher reminded me this morning of one reason that panic hoarders have cleaned out the flour, pasta, and rice from most of our markets over the last two weeks: Simple carbohydrates are a natural mood elevator.
She suggested breadmaking as a great way to expend energy in this time of confinement that has an added bonus of providing a lovely, warm simple carbohydrate that comforts and naturally lifts us from the inevitable depression that comes with being cooped up.
It's a fine idea. Unhappily, unless you made it to the market before panic emptied the shelves of bread's primary ingredient, for the moment, an idea is all it can be.
So far, however, no one has been panic-hoarding one of natures great sources of simple carbohydrates: potatoes (at least, not here in Savannah where I live).
The key to getting the most from this starch-rich vegetable without having it become hackneyed is to think outside our traditional envelope. Out of pasta? Baked or sliced boiled or steamed potatoes make a fine vehicle for many pasta sauces. Have a little flour but not enough to make a loaf of bread or a batch of noodles? Make potato rolls or gnocchi.
Moreover, potatoes are a great meat-stretching filler for casseroles, and, contrary to popular belief, can often be successfully warmed-over in many more ways than pasta or rice.
Steamed new potatoes can be sautéed, folded into hash, smashed and used as a carrier for sautéed or stir-fried vegetables, meat, and poultry, and, one of the nicest of all, layered in a buttery, crumb-topped gratin.
Gratin of New Potatoes with Spring Onions
Potato gratins don't have to be heavy with white sauce or cream or, for that matter, loaded with cheese to be good. If you don't have any parsley in the house, other herbs that go well with this are dill, mint, oregano, or thyme. Add or substitute, but don't overdo them.
1¼ pounds small new potatoes
6 small scallions or 4 green onions, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoon finely-chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1¼ cups (about 5 ounces) freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
3½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Whole nutmeg in a grater
¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
1. Prepare a heavy-bottomed pot with at least 1 inch of cold water and a steamer insert (the water should not touch the bottom of the insert). Cover and bring it to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, scrub the potatoes under cold running water. Add them to the steamer insert, cover, and steam 2 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium and steam until the potatoes are barely tender, about 15-20 minutes, depending on their size.
2. Remove them from the pot and let them cool enough to handle. Butter a 2-quart gratin dish or shallow casserole. Slice the potatoes and arrange them in rows in the dish, overlapping and scattering onions and parsley among them and sprinkling them with a little Parmigiano as you go but reserving ¼ cup for the topping. Drizzle each row with butter, holding back 1 teaspoon for the crumb topping, and season well with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. If any onions and parsley remain, scatter them over the top. The gratin can be made several hours ahead to this point.
3. 45 minutes before serving, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 375° F. Warm 1 teaspoon of butter in a small skillet and add the breadcrumbs. Stir until the butter is evenly absorbed and remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle the gratin with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and buttered crumbs. Bake until the potatoes are hot through and the top is lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. Let it settle 5 minutes before serving.
For other lovely recipes for spring potatoes, look to the Recipes and Stories entries for 26 April 2016 (Sautéed Asparagus, Leeks, and New Potatoes), 4 March 2014 (Baked Fish Fillets with Potatoes and Onions), 7 December 2018 (Baked Mashed Potatoes), 4 February 2013 (Ham and Potato Casserole), and 18 April 2014 (French Potato Gratin with cream, gruyere, and herbs).