by April Paffrath
We got some lovely red-skinned potatoes in our CSA box last week. I've been waiting, looking at them, imaging what I should do with them. It's a little predatory. I stalk my produce, apparently. Some days I don't even have the box opened all the way when I'm struck with inspiration for dinner that night. Other times I wait and lurk, sifting through the countless ideas and options.
The potatoes were so pretty that I wanted to do something special. Then I realized, as I do about 15 times each summer, that excellent food needs very little to amplify the natural, stellar flavor. Sure, it would have been fun to do a gratin dauphinois with these pink little pretties, but then I realized something else, as I do about 15 more times each summer: it's been too hot to have the oven on.
So I waited, peering at the potatoes all week. Waiting and waiting until either appetite or weather won out. The rainy and cool weather yesterday sent me a culinary reprieve. I could use the oven without cursing myself for it halfway through the cooking. Even with the rain, though, I wasn't in the mood for a gratin. Don't get me wrong: "cheesy" and "creamy" are words of honor in my world, but I didn't have the time or the ingredients on hand to make it stellar. You don't want less-than-excellent gratin. Trust me. It's an easy dish, but you want guaranteed good.
So when the weather cooled, I opted for simple: cut up and roasted lightly in olive oil with sea salt. It doesn't get simpler than that. It doesn't show off the natural goodness any better than that, either. What I made tasted like potatoes and early summer. They were a great example of the season's early potatoes. As I cut them, the knife didn't drag or stick from the starch—a starchy potato always seems to hold onto the knife. These potatoes are meant to be eaten intact—they're almost refreshing and fruity, not mere salt or ketchup vehicles.
To accompany the potatoes, I thought of prepping the kale with the fresh garlic (so good!). But I knew that the strong flavors might interrupt my appreciation of these simple spuds. Instead, I made anellini pasta (O-shaped) and popped a frozen cube of radish leaf pesto in after it was drained. It warmed up and coated the pasta in glistening green. Dinner perfection. There was enough garlic and cheese and spicy radish tones to make dinner complex, but it was subtle enough that the potatoes didn't fade into the background.
I'm a huge fan of these simple dinner tricks like freezing the building blocks of future meals for nights when we're knackered. The radish leaf pesto I made a while ago is stored in my freezer in cubes. It cuts down on dinner prep time immensely, and makes tastier, more complicated meals possible when I might otherwise go for toast. Yes, we get that tired that some nights toast will do. (OK, it's good toast, but still).
I simply cubed them, tossed them in olive oil and roasted them in the oven until fork tender, while I sped around doing other things. Top with sea salt. No fuss.
I cooked enough for two and drained it. Then I popped in one frozen cube of the pesto and turned the heat on just long enough to melt it all—hardly took any extra time because it melts quickly. If I were using a more fragile pasta than anellini, I would pre-melt the pesto so as not to overcook the pasta. Top with grated parmigiano.
Devour and follow up with a brownie or baked oatmeal (which is the other thing I made during my cool-day kitchen time).