Straight to the Top
January 29, 2009
I am not privy to the produce world’s inner pecking order. But if I were, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that potatoes were the plain Janes of the lot. While gourds sashay around in their vibrant colors (think butternut) and artichokes wow with their spicy, layer-y outfits and chard and kale splay out into bouquet-ish bundles, potatoes—with their mottled brown jackets—fade into the background. Some potato varieties—the jewel-toned purple ones or the luxe yukon golds—might get a second look, but the good old russets, I’m guessing, are the last to get picked for a schoolyard pick-up game.
This recipe aims to shake up that vegetable social hierarchy. This recipe will send the baking potato straight to the top. Like the ugly duckling morphing into the swan, if you will. Because this recipe is undeniably luxurious and incredibly delicious.
It’s also just the thing for the indecisive cook who’s got a few spuds on her hands. Can’t decide whether to bake or mash your potatoes? Do both! That’s essentially what this recipe instructs you to do.
First, you oil up a few potatoes and let them bake, long and slow in a hot oven. Once they’re tender (don’t skimp on this step or you’ll regret it later), you remove them from the oven, slice off the very top lengthwise and carve out the fluffy insides (a melon-baller works well, though a regular spoon will do), leaving a canoe-like shell. Set the potato-canoes aside.
To the fluffy insides, add some tangy, creamy goat cheese, a pat of butter, a splash of half-and-half and a shower of chopped chives. Make like Thanksgiving and mash up the mixture, until it’s creamy and smooth. Heap the gussied-up mixture back into the potato-canoes. If you’re feeling extra fancy (I was not), you can pipe the mixture in using a pastry bag and decorative tip.
Bake the filled potatoes again in the still-warm oven, until the tops begins to brown. For a final kiss of heat, run them under the broiler. This will not only render the potato a lovely shade of golden, it will also produce a variety of textures: the delicate papery skins; the meaty baked shell; the lush, creamy filling; and the almost-crusty top, which tastes a lot like the best bits atop a shepherd’s pie. They will definitely turn heads.
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
8 6-ounce russet potatoes, scrubbed
5 1/2 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet), crumbled
3/4 cup half and half or milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 375°F. Rub oil over potatoes. Pierce in several spots with fork. Place directly on oven rack; bake until very tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 10 minutes. Using oven mitts, grasp 1 potato in hand. Using serrated knife, cut off top 1/4 of potato. Using spoon, scoop out potato, leaving 1/2-inch-thick shell; transfer potato flesh to large bowl. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Mash potatoes until smooth. Mix in cheese, then half and half, butter, and chives. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon about 3/4 of potato mixture into shells, dividing evenly. Transfer remaining potato filling to pastry bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe filling atop potatoes. Place potatoes on baking sheet. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake potatoes until filling is heated through and tops brown, about 20 minutes.*
* I also ran the potatoes quickly under the broiler before serving.