Belated Valentine, from my kitchen to you:
I am a big believer in comfort food. For me, mashed potatoes are a comfort food that are impossible to get tired of. They can be made in so many ways: with butter, with olive oil, with sour cream, whipped, blended, smashed, gravy-ed. Two things seem to remain true about them. 1.) there are never enough, and 2.) they get cold too fast. How to combat this? It helps that I am only cooking for two, but had my first lessons, triumphs, and failures in a kitchen that fed four nightly. I haven’t yet mastered the downsizing process, but in cases like mashed potatoes, N. and I actually benefit from my over exuberance.
The key element to mashed potatoes, I think, is including enough fat. Otherwise all you end up with is crumbly boiled potato. I take my fat options extremely seriously, and in considering all the creamy options, I decided to play with ricotta cheese during this round. Not only would this add a cheesy dimension, which is almost never a bad thing, but would contribute a velvety texture and give the potatoes a way of clinging together as they crumbled under the force of my masher.
I dropped a bag of baby Yukon golds into a pot of half salted water, half leftover chicken broth that didn’t get stirred into the risotto from the previous night’s adventure. Then, in a moment of sudden, startling inspiration, I cracked three whole, unpeeled garlic cloves off the bulb and tossed them in too. Considering the plans for the following night, these paper-wrapped, pungent little cloves could tie the whole week together.
While the potatoes boiled, I considered their final destination. Ricotta cheese is nice, but it certainly could be improved upon. I chopped up a good handful of dill and Italian parsley, and on sudden urge, grated a handful of parmesan cheese too.
I like my mashed potatoes chunky, and I know that most of a potato’s nutrients are found in its skin, so I like to make mashed potatoes with new or fingerling potatoes, or with red-skinned potatoes, which all have thin skins with unobjectionable flavors. This adds to the nutritious value of the final result, and it saves me time because I don’t have to peel a bunch of potatoes in preparation. Additionally, the skins add a nice textural element as they yield their hold on the starchy interior and shred through the pot upon mashing.
After draining and peeling the garlic cloves, I added and gently mashed together the following with the softened soldiers:
- 4 TB butter
- ½ cup milk
- 8 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
- ¼ – ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
- 2-3 TB chopped fresh dill
- Sea salt and black pepper
Using a plastic masher is invaluable because you can do your mixing and mashing right in the pot, which ensures that the potatoes stay hot longer. We mounded ours up on warm plates and ate them alongside roasted asparagus. The ricotta was a great addition; it was not super cheesy, but recognizably creamy and smooth. It definitely added richness and tamed the starchiness of the potatoes. The combination of herbs was a success. With the additional richness of the cheese, having bright pops of green both visually and orally made the dish feel, not exactly healthy, but not overbearing. Besides, with a side of asparagus and burst cherry tomatoes, we weren’t being all that bad…