Friday, February 15, 2008

February 15: Potato Roesti

One of my favorite food writers isn't really a food writer. She is Nora Ephron, who wrote such Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan vehicles as Sleepless In Seattle, Hanging Up, and You've Got Mail. Blah. Bland as a cheap can of soup.

But she also wrote a book called Heartburn, a semi-autobiograpical novel about her second marriage to Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein) and his affair with Margaret Jay, who was a Washington socialite who she described as looking like "a giraffe with big feet." She also described her husband as "capable of having sex with a Venetian blind." I'll tell you what, Nora's movies may function like narcotics to me, but when it comes to getting even rather than getting mad, she's a genius.

Because the main character is a food writer, the book contains several recipes, including one that I love for a pasta dish made with chopped tomatoes, basil, and red pepper flakes which I make during the summer when tomatoes couldn't possibly be any better. In another, she describes how she measures the evolution of a relationship with potato dishes. At one point in the relationship, usually when she is trying hard to impress someone, she makes Swiss potatoes, which she describes as being an enormous pancake of crunchy hash browns. She describes the process of flipping them wildly and dramatically, which is always an interesting way to cook.

America's Test Kitchen describes "Swiss Family Potatoes" which is the closest thing I've found to the recipe in Heartburn, my copy of which I can't currenly locate. Here is their giant Family-Sized Potato Roesti. At the end, I've also included some serving suggestions from America's Test Kitchen--Nora Ephron just suggests eating the potatoes as is.

Serves 4.

Potato Roesti

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (3 to 4 medium), peeled and shredded in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Place potatoes in large bowl and fill with cold water. Using hands, swirl to remove excess starch, then drain in strainer.

2. Wipe bowl dry. Place half of potatoes in center of kitchen towel. Gather ends together and twist as tightly as possible to expel maximum moisture. Transfer potatoes to bowl and repeat process with remaining potatoes.

3. Sprinkle salt, cornstarch, and pepper to taste over potatoes. Using hands or fork, toss ingredients together until well blended.

4. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add potato mixture and spread into even layer. Cover and cook 6 minutes. Remove cover and, using spatula, gently press potatoes down to form round cake. Cook, occasionally pressing on potatoes to shape into uniform round cake, until bottom is deep golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes longer.

5. Shake skillet to loosen roesti and slide onto large plate. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to skillet and swirl to coat pan. Invert roesti onto second plate and slide it, browned side up, back into skillet. Cook, occasionally pressing down on cake, until bottom is well browned, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow cake to cool in pan for 5 minutes. Transfer roesti to cutting board, cut into 4 pieces, and serve immediately.

Ramping Up Roesti
The Swiss traditionally top roesti with a range of meats, cheeses, and vegetables to create a simple main course. But roesti is not pizza—you must use a light hand with toppings to preserve the potato flavor and proper texture. One topped roesti will serve two as a main course.

Slide 2 softly fried eggs onto finished roesti and sprinkle with 1/2 cup to 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese and coarse salt to taste.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese over roesti about 3 minutes before fully cooked on second side. While not traditional, sharp cheddar, Manchego, Italian fontina, and Havarti cheeses taste good, too.

Drape 4 or 5 slices cured ham or prosciutto over roesti a few minutes before fully cooked on second side. If desired, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or rosemary and coarse black pepper and serve with whole-grain mustard.

Top with 3 or 4 strips crumbled cooked bacon and 1 large onion, sliced thin and cooked in 1 tablespoon bacon drippings or butter until soft and seasoned with salt and lots of black pepper. Sprinkle with sherry vinegar if desired.

Shingle 1 large tomato (sliced very thin, placed on paper towels, salted for 30 minutes, and patted dry) over roesti a few minutes before fully cooked on second side. (Particularly good when combined with fontina; put cheese down first so that it melts.)

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