Alice is usually napping as I cook and do my food “photo shoots” (in quotations here because I’m not sure I can legitimately use this phrase when I have no idea what I’m doing). Yesterday however, the luring smell of these baking potatoes must have kept her awake. She happily squealed in her crib as I chopped and assembled, and when I retrieved her and let her join the shoot, she was immediately interested in what is in the casserole dish.
I gave her a slice of potato to quell her curiosity, since one bite of any other type of spud generates indignation and often tears. As she took a bite, I watched her face change, ready to deal with the worst. To my surprise, she chewed, swallowed, and held out her hand form more! For the rest of the time I was taking pictures, I fed her slices and tried to fend off her sneaky fingers from grabbing a handful of the dish.
These potatoes are delicious (as Alice’s stuffed and messy cheeks attest to) and a little fancy. They’re a little step above regular roasted potatoes in preparation and a big step in interest. The thin slices crisp so nicely in the oven and are dotted with bites of earthy, savory mushrooms. Everything is scented with thyme and rosemary, a harmony of smells that are welcome in any dish. The whole thing is just pretty to look at, tantalizing to taste, and is a perfect accompaniment to any main; we carb-loaded last night (for no particular reason other than pasta and potatoes both taste good) with these as a side to lasagna, but they would be perfect accompaniments to pan fried pork chops or roasted chicken. Though these potatoes are a little more special than their regular roasted counterparts, they certainly aren’t above a dip in ketchup, and I would be so excited to pile them next to a burger.
A note on shiitakes:
The savoriness (and specialness) of this dish comes mostly from the dried shiitake mushrooms. Unlike fresh, these mushrooms pack a serious umami punch in per square inch, and a few is all you need for the savoriness to come through in any given dish.
Dried shiitakes are the ones to choose for the best flavor/cost ratio when you’re talking dried mushrooms. The original recipe calls for dried porcini mushrooms, which cost about twice as much as shiitakes. Though according to Cook’s Illustrated shiitakes don’t taste quite as “mushroomy,” they were still more than acceptable substitutes for porcinis. Also, they’re easy to find! I found mine at a regular grocery store (in the asian section), but you can also find them at an asian market.
I love having these mushrooms on hand to add depth to anything and everything – from pasta sauces to curry to chicken soup. They’re a wonderful ingredient that adds so much flavor for so little surface area. To prepare, soak them in some warm water for 15 to 20 minutes, remove and squeeze out the extra water, snip off the tough stem, and chop finely. The soaking liquid is packed with flavor, so add that into whatever you’re making!
Here are some other recipes that use shiitakes to motivate you to try them out. http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/01/someday-my-spring-will-come/
Roasted Potatoes with White and Shiitake Mushrooms
Adapted from the recipe “Sliced Potatoes Baked with Fresh Cultivated Mushrooms, Riviera style” from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
2 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thinly
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon rosemary
¼ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon salt
½ lb white mushrooms, sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the shiitakes by soaking them in ½ cup of warm water while you peel and slice the potatoes.
Then, remove the mushrooms from the water, cut off and discard the stems, and chop the caps finely.
Pour the soaking liquid and the chopped up mushrooms into a saute pan on high heat, and boil the water away to concentrate the flavor into the mushrooms.
Then, add the butter to the same pan and let it melt. Add the mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, salt, and some generous grindings of black pepper, and saute for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, add the mushroom mixture, sliced potatoes, a few tablespoons of olive oil, and mix. Make sure all the potatoes are coated in oil – if not, add some more of it.
Grease a 1½ quart casserole dish and assemble. I stood the potato slices up so each piece would get brown and crusty on top, but if you’re in a rush, just pile them in there. Top with some more black pepper, and place in the oven.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes turn golden and are easily pierced with a fork.