Early in our marriage, my husband and I spent a lot of weekend nights at home. As new homeowners, dining out meant blowing up the budget, so I worked hard learning to cook things that went well with an inexpensive bottle of red wine at our kitchen table. Somewhere in the process, I became obsessed with the idea of perfect potatoes.
Now, as spuds go, there are a lot of options out there. Baked, mashed, French fries, duchess, Lyonnais, hash browns, home fries. In my mind, they’re all good. But I aimed for the ultimate, roasted potatoes, like the ones that spend an hour in the oven soaking up succulent juices from a whole chicken, a hunk of beef, a leg of lamb. They land on the plate crusty on the outside, steaming and soft in the middle, as good with gravy as without. The thing is, I wanted that result without preparing the protein, too.
I taught myself a lot those days. Homemade marinades, how to use stale scraps for a yummy bread puddings, the right ingredients for meatballs good enough to ensure my husband didn’t miss his mother’s. I prepared stir-fry meals, and healthy bean soups. But the potatoes stumped me. In that pre-internet world, I poured over cookbooks. I tossed potatoes with butter and herbs, changed the oven temperature,varied the spud, threw in onions or garlic, rosemary or thyme. One recipe even called for mustard. Most results were good (my dear husband assured me), but not what I wanted. It took years of Saturday night experimentation before I hit on a simple mix of components, resulting in crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, saliva producing potatoes. These days, I may veer from my formula, but I do so knowing that while the final dish may taste lovely, nothing quite suits me like the method I mastered after such a long bout of trying.
Okay, where am I going with this? Well, I stood at the counter quartering potatoes one night recently and an epiphany snuck in and gave me a goose on the behind. When I want to do something right, I’m persistent. It took heaps of potatoes, but now I can prepare those things without thinking and every time I serve them, I’m glad for the time I invested. An easy-peasy potato recipe that took so long to master, gives me hope that all my writing practice will pay off someday, too. I am still working at it, still developing the key ingredients, still trying to create a sound formula, and while I may not be there yet, even now, things taste better. Persistence pays off, right?
Good. Because, my change of employment years back forced a cutback in house-hold expenses. We gave up our beloved Friday night treat from the local pizza house and now, I’m five years into the development of the perfect tomato pie. Thick crust? Thin crust? Neapolitan style? Deep dish? Flatbread? And then, what about the sauce? This one is going to take a long, long time.
Maybe by the time I’ve got a novel published, I’ll have mastered a worthy pizza pie.
Liza's Six Years in Development Roasted Potatoes
Make this simple mix of herbs and keep it in a sealed container. (This is a rip off of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. By all means, use that if you choose.)
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
Use fist-sized white or Yukon Gold Potatoes. Red potatoes are fine in a pinch, but don’t get as crispy. Stay away from baking potatoes. I figure one potato per person (and three more for my husband).
Leave the skins on the potatoes, wash them and cut them into quarters.
Toss them with one tablespoon of olive oil for every six potatoes.
Sprinkle with the spice blend to taste. I just shake it out, but I guess I use about a teaspoon or two for six spuds.
Arrange potatoes on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan, skin side down, (which stops them from sticking and eliminates the need to stir while they bake.)
Roast in a 375 degree oven for forty-five minutes. Send your husband out to grill a steak. The potatoes will be done when he brings the cooked meat in (about sixty minutes total, because I like them brown and crusty. You can take them out earlier if you prefer.)