Brave Potatoes

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When I came home, my first thought was that I had nothing for dinner and would have to order takeout. Then in the back of the fridge, I found some shrimp spring rolls with peanut sauce I’d made over the weekend, and noshed on those. But it wasn’t enough - IT WASN’T NEARLY ENOUGH - as my cat often says after I feed him.

So I looked for something else. Given the temperature outside was nearly Yakutsk-like, it had to be hot, and substantial. I had an open can of crushed tomatoes, some fresh mushrooms, and was about to boil some spaghetti. But then I saw a handful of potatoes, cowering in a paper bag in the bottom drawer - so old they had sprouts on them. I knew I had to eat those puppies before they withered and died.

A few minutes in boiling salt water revived them. Now what? I still had that tomato sauce, and I’ve always liked the idea of the Spanish tapa, “Patatas Bravas,” roughly translating as fierce or brave potatoes. They are usually fried and served with a spicy red sauce, though its traditional aioli accompaniment has never made sense to me. (The Dutch incongruously add mayonnaise to their fried potatoes, and just because the Spanish add garlic, it doesn’t make it right.)

Thus my personal riff on the recipe, eliminating the frying and the garlicky mayonnaise in exchange for some seriously deep roasted flavor, thanks to a rich tomato sauce caramelized in olive oil, with yellow onions, loads of garlic, and generous amounts of smoked paprika and crushed red pepper. It’s all topped with a yummy mix of Spanish Manchego and Greek feta – both tangy sheep cheeses – topped with chopped parsley.

All done on the stovetop, since my oven is still broken and the new one is on back order!

Ingredients

2-3 lbs of Yukon golds or any other potatoes still clinging to life

At least two tablespoons olive oil

A yellow onion, roughly diced

3 monstrous cloves of garlic, minced

A 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika (try a little and adjust to taste)

1/2 - teaspoon crushed red pepper (see above)

Some liquid for the pan as needed - broth or red wine diluted in water (or just water)

1-2 oz. each sheep’s milk Manchego and feta, crumbled.

A couple tablespoons chopped parsley (flat or curly)

Directions

1. Cut the potatoes into wedges or 1” dice and boil in salted water until tender. Drain.

2. Place a large sauté pan over low heat, add the olive oil.

3. Add the onions, and when they turn golden, add the garlic and potatoes. Bump up the heat.

4. As the potatoes brown, add a little of the broth/wine/water as needed to prevent sticking and burning of the garlic and onion.

5. Add the tomato sauce and mix. Add paprika, crushed red pepper, and salt. Taste and correct seasoning. You should have a smoky-sweet flavor that is pronounced but not overwhelming. Add enough of the broth/wine/water as necessary to keep the sauce supple.

6. When heated through, turn the heat on its very lowest setting or turn off. Top with the cheese and cover for a minute or three until it melts.

7. Spatulize it into a serving dish, top with chopped parsley, and serve hot. No mayonnaise needed.

It turned out to be the best thing I ate all day, and helped me to bravely face the frigid weather. And to think I almost got takeout!


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil rights litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at Twitter or Facebook @nickroumel, or Instagram @nroumel.



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