One winter’s day I showed up cold, bedraggled and hungry at my friend Leda’s door. As is her style, she effortlessly produced the perfect salve: a steaming bowl of these Greek potatoes. It’s comfort food at its finest — filling (starch!), warming (zingy garlic and olives!) and easily consumed with a spoon while watching TV.
This dish also gave me new appreciation for the potato. It’s more than a reliable base for the surrounding ingredients; its got its own buttery flavors and a great spectrum of texture, from floury to pliant to crispy. In this recipe, the outsides of the chunks reach that final stage during a 15-minute fry in olive oil, and the result is a great counterpoint to the juicy tomatoes, olives and onions.
I admit I was a late bloomer when it comes to potato love. Let’s blame it on my upbringing. My father is a meat-and-potatoes guy, which means every night, my mother gamely boiled potatoes and mashed them with a splash of milk and a chip of butter, or sometimes just put them naked on our plates. Too bland? Pick up the salt shaker, it’s right there. And how about that tender beef?
So into my twenties I thought potatoes only helped round out a meal, and with surprise encountered dishes like this one. But even if you don’t suffer from memories of dull childhood dinners — I hear of some homes where children enjoy twice-baked potatoes, french fries, potatoes au gratin, creamy mashed potatoes, cheesy mashed potatoes, etc. — I’d wager this recipe can compete with your favorites. It’s also a great way to use a star ingredient from your November CSA and, if you’re a real locavore, break into those tomatoes you canned a few months ago.
Greek Gratin of Potato, Olives and Tomatoes
Courtesy Leda Marritz, by way of our friend Alessia Cook, whose mother adapted the dish from Aglaia Kremezi’s The Foods of Greece
Makes 4 servings
1/2 cup olive oil
2 pounds Yukon Gold (I’ve used others, like Russet or white round potatoes, just fine) peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine (something you wouldn’t mind enjoying a glass of while you’re cooking)
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or more!)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Parsley for garnish
1. In skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat and sauté the potatoes, stirring frequently, until they turn golden brown on all sides, about 10-15 minutes. Don’t skimp — really get that crackly outer shell going on. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon to a large baking dish.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. In the remaining oil in the skillet, cook the onions, covered, stirring on occasion, until very tender and golden, about 10-15 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute, then add the white wine and evaporate for 1 minute.
5. Add the chili pepper, oregano, tomatoes and olives and cook for a couple of minutes, uncovered or until reduced slightly. Season with ½-teaspoon salt.
6. Remove the sauce from the heat and pour over the potatoes. Mix potatoes with sauce and bake, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes or until tender. Garnish with parsley. And some grated parmesan, if you’re feeling unorthodox.
Reheats really well. Here’s Lars, eating it for breakfast: