December 4, 2023 | Rome, Italy

One potato, two potato

By |2018-03-21T20:10:19+01:00August 14th, 2017|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Playing with potatoes can save a long, hot summer.

o you ever wake up in mid-August and realize that summer has slipped by like a swan on still water? That June and July are gone and that your summer reading list isn’t half checked off, your friends are off vacationing, your favorite restaurant closed, and the supermarket fish department barren. Even your chocolate shop is shut, along with newsstands in some neighborhoods. Oh yes, and it’s always 100 degrees outside.

Has that ever happen to you?

Believe me, I love the heat, I love the sun, I love summer foods, I love lolling, and I love languishing. I also love making feeble attempts at thinking up dishes that don’t require ovens or flames. But it’s no easy task.

Cold poached anything — vitello tonnato, potato salad, and more — all need heat to reach their state of eventual coolness.

So be it. Since I’m a potato nut, I’ve come up with several summertime ways to glorify that versatile tuber.

Buy a kilo sack of very small new potatoes (or big ones, cut in fours) and simmer in salted water until very tender. Drain, and to the potato pot add a handful of chopped parsley, basil, sweet onion (chopped fine), a spoon of capers, a good squeeze of lemon, 3/4 cup mayonnaise, two spoons of Dijon mustard ( moutarde à l’ancienne is even better), salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil.

Use a potato masher or the end of a large whisk (or the end of a mallet, or a fork) to make the mixture coarse. Just don’t purée the poor things. Add some celery, chopped fine, for texture (a pinch of curry powder isn’t bad either).

Another idea: peel and cube some large potatoes, boil them until tender. Toss them with mayo, mustard, grilled and peeled sweet peppers, cornichons, (both chopped fine), and a couple of chopped-up hard-boiled eggs. Then add a can of very good tuna in olive oil. This goes well with things on the grill or in picnics.

A more refined way of playing with potatoes is to use them as the structure for purées of carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, or even green Romano beans. Whiz up the cooked potato and vegetable in a food processor with a good dollop of yogurt, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of nutmeg.

I recently wheedled a version of this from the caterer, a potato purée into which the cook had folded very small chunks of sautéed zucchini (the pale green, firm Roman kind with little water content) and finely chopped fresh mint. It was served hot but in cold dishes.

Another sidekick to a grill get together is smashed (not mashed) potatoes — small spuds simmered until tender, then smashed with a mallet on an oiled cookie sheet. Mix olive oil, chopped garlic and fresh rosemary and brush over each flattened serving. Sprinkle with paprika and finish off in a hot (375F/200C) oven until crispy around the edges. Using sweet potatoes can liven things up.

I am potatoed out at this point, but there’s always the piece de resistance, a perfect, one-size-fits-all baked potato scooped out a bit and filled with either a poached egg, or a nice spoon of caviar with little dishes of sour cream, chopped egg, and crispy bacon bits (from real bacon!) served with a green salad.

Maybe just put the mint in a large, icy mojito and leave the kitchen behind. Glide through the rest of summer with salads and get into those tempting books. Actually, two mojitos might just do the trick.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.