When I was a junior in college I chose to attend the University of St. Andrews for a semester abroad. I assure you that this choice was not entirely due to my love of "Braveheart" and its images of burly men warring around the countryside in kilts. I was, in fact, well versed in Scotland's history since my father had spent many hours teaching my brother and I about our Scottish family roots. In the months prior to my trip I dutifully studied up on the country and simply couldn't wait to board the plane to the land of dress tartans, lake monsters and, of course, a new cuisine. I'll admit, when it came to the Scotland's culinary offerings I was not anticipating haggis, I was mostly excited about the idea of warm scones with clotted cream, jars of jam and piping hot pots of earl grey, served daily(!) at high tea.
Though the scones and tea were delicious, I soon realized that there was one thing I hadn't anticipated about the Scottish cuisine, the ubiquity of the potato. Though I had always liked potatoes I was amazed that they were served everywhere, and was more than a little worried that all of the preparations I encountered were soggy, cheesy and very fatty. In the University town there were entire take-away food shops dedicated to serving only potatoes prepared a dozen different ways. Since these were the least expensive restaurants, given my meager student budget, I ate at them quite often. Have you ever had a baked potato topped with a heaping spoonful of mac-n-cheese, accompanied by a heavy beer, as your dinner? I have, several times. Unfortunately the dining halls weren't much better since, like most institutions, the chefs were given very little to work with in terms of fresh ingredients. Therefore, potatoes were served at all meals either fried, boiled, or baked and always heaped with cheese and cream. As a result, like after you eat too much of any particular food item, by the end of the semester I was a little tired of them.
When I returned from abroad, though I missed Scotland terribly, I was happy that the "Semester O' the Potato" was over. I remained wary of potatoes for quite a few years and, I have to be honest, if I hadn't married a classic "meat and potatoes" guy I might have never really gotten into cooking them at all. But, early in our marriage, my husband politely asked that a potato dish accompany the chicken I was preparing. I reluctantly agreed since I knew he loved potatoes and I couldn't keep them at bay forever. So, I started flipping through my usual haunts - the internet, cookbooks and magazines - until I came across a recipe I hoped would not lead me to produce a dull, soggy potato dish like the ones from my old Scottish dorm.
When I found this recipe I was hopeful that it would lead me to turn the corner on potatoes, the herb salt seemed the perfect blend to enliven the mellow buttery flavor of a potato and reawaken my palate. I held my breath and gave the recipe a try, and, thankfully, it did not disappoint. The lemon herb salt is the perfect anecdote to a potato, giving it a lovely spring-like flavor that bounces on your tongue. I have made this recipe a dozen times now and always play with the flavors depending on what herbs are in season. The best part is that this is very easy to prepare during naptime, it really takes extremely little effort. You just put all the ingredients for the herb salt into your mini-chopper, then hit the pulse button about half a dozen times, and the hardest part is complete. Needless to say this has become one of my go-to potato recipes and I hope you like it, too. I don't know if I will ever love potatoes like I love scones, but this recipe has definitely restored my faith in the spud.
Lemon Herb Salt-Roasted Potatoes - Adapted from Food & Wine November 2006
2 large sage leaves, chopped
1 t. fresh rosemary
1 t. fresh thyme leaves
1 t. finely grated lemon zest (use Meyer if you can!)
2 T. Kosher salt
2 lbs. small Yukon gold potatoes, halved
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. melted, unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425. In mini-chopper pulse the sage, rosemary and thyme until finely chopped. Add lemon zest and pulse some more. Add salt and pulse until whole mixture is finally ground.
2. Wash potatoes and cut them in half. Place them in a large glass bowl and toss with olive oil and butter. Then season generously with pepper. Spread potatoes in a single layer on a large baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast for 25 minutes.
3. At the 25 minute mark, take the pan out of the oven and, very carefully, season the potatoes generously with herb salt. Toss well and continue roasting for 8-10 more minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown.
Naptime Recipe Props: The fun part about this recipe is you can play with the herbs you use. You could add almost anything you want to suit your taste. In the summer, when fresh herbs are bountiful, it might be fun to play with different flavors depending on the dish you are serving. Also, another thing I love about this recipe is that the leftovers are just as good the next day as they are on the first.
Naptime Stopwatch: If you can handle pressing the 'pulse' button on your chopper you can prepare this dish. It takes about two minutes to make the herb salt and another two minutes to halve the potatoes. The rest is essentially a lot of peeking at the oven from time to time and the dish is complete.
Naptime Reviews: The toddler LOVES this dish. Potatoes are an extremely kid-friendly food and this preparation is ideal because the kids can pick it up themselves and the potato is soft, yielding easily to their little teeth and gums. I have also served this with roast chicken when entertaining and they are a big hit.