Like the vegetable stock I made with roasted sweet potato skins, onion tops, a clove of smashed garlic, thyme and three prunes the other day, there are times at the stove when frugality reaps revelatory rewards. So many of my discoveries as both a cook and an eater have been because of sheer will -- the determination to create and enjoy something delicious with the ingredients on hand. I suppose it takes being alert, too -- recognizing how flavors and textures work together and having the wherewithal to remember how to recreate it. The potatoes I found tucked in the back of the fridge and the sack of arugula that promised good news called out to me with a memory of a person from ages ago with a long white braid and an astounding work ethic.
I'm convinced that the only reason I've been ambivalent about potatoes in the past is because they were never prepared in a very delicious way; too often they were waterlogged or too dry or under salted or just b-o-r-i-n-g (and I do subscribe to the idea that only boring people find things boring so this is a statement). Everyone has their own set of tricks up their sleeves and I'm sure that mine sound like a lot of Irish grandmothers but hear me: if you boil potatoes in salted water and toss them in a dressing that has some degree of sour while they are still hot-hot-hot, you will experience enduring assurance that a delicious meal is never far from you.
Hot Potatoes with Arugula and Pepita Pesto
inspired by Tish McKlevey
Read this: It is essential to boil the potatoes in salted water and even more essential to toss them immediately in the pesto (or any sauce that you use) while they are still hot so that their cells and pores can absorb optimally. Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are great to eat in the spring (so is arugula) but other nuts are fine substitutions, so long as they're toasted. For the non-vegans: Amy and I folded leftovers into an omelette and had an utter feast.
3/4 c olive oil
1 clove of garlic
3/4 t sea salt
the juice from one lemon
3 c arugula
1/2 c basil leaves
3/4 t maple syrup
1/2 c toasted pepitas (or almonds or walnuts or pine nuts)
1/2 c of buttermilk or a few splashes of rice vinegar (very optional but very delicious)
8 whole small-medium potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled
chives, sorrel or basil for garnish
Make the pesto first so that you can be sensible about the taste without feeling rushed by the cooking potatoes.
In a food processor, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and some salt and mix until pulverized. Add the arugula and basil and spin until there are no big pieces or stems. Add the toasted pepitas and maple syrup and mix until the seeds are well-ground. Now taste -- there should be an explosion of peppery green but with the soothing balance of the sweetness from the maple syrup. Wait to add any more lemon juice until you've folded the pesto into the potatoes.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and then add enough salt so that when you taste the cooking water it has the salt consistency of chicken noodle soup broth. Reduce the heat to a hearty simmer and add the potatoes. Cook them until penetrable with a fork or knife -- about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes, and drain well.
In a separate large bowl, add most of the pesto to the hot potatoes and start mixing, pressing down with the spoon to break the potatoes into (at least) bite sized pieces -- more surface area means more opportunity for flavor permeation. Taste. Adjust for salt and sour (by adding more lemon, vinegar or buttermilk). Garnish with the remaining pesto or some roughly chopped basil, chives or sorrel.
Yields: a meal for 2 or a side dish for 6
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes (inactive)
Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington