Last year, after having spent 5 years testing recipes (with Merrill!) for a cookbook, it was time to actually sit down and write the book. I did so in the evenings, which meant that my husband, Tad, took over cooking dinner. Tad is a good cook, but not the kind who sees time in the kitchen as a moment for free-association with ingredients. The notion of playing around with recipes in the spirit of experimentation is one that has never occurred to him. Tad is the type of cook who prefers to find a few recipes he likes and master them so he can get in and out of the kitchen and back to reading the paper as quickly as possible. His dinner-party dish is James Beards' Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. He roasts beets wrapped in a foil packet, a technique learned from Tom Colicchio, and he whips up a mean slow-roasted striped bass.
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His piece de resistance, however, is roasted potatoes, which he makes in a cast iron pan with lightly smashed whole garlic cloves and whatever herbs are in the fridge. He blankets them with olive oil, scatters on coarse salt and coarsely ground black pepper and then sticks the pan in a hot oven. They're delicious every time.
Once when preparing the potatoes, though, Tad used some white potatoes that had been in the fridge for, oh, a month, give or take a few months. When the potatoes came out of the oven, they were as brown as a chestnut, with a thick, glistening crust, and as sweet as candy -- far outpacing any version he'd made before. The secret, we eventually learned, was the old potatoes. As potatoes age, their starch turns to sugar, making them denser, softer and easier to caramelize. So buy some white potatoes today, and try Tad's recipe in February...
Tad's Roasted Potatoes
3/4 pound old white potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
8 sprigs herbs (any combination of thyme, sage and rosemary)
3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed (leave the skins on)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the potatoes in a 12-inch, well-seasoned cast iron pan -- they should fit comfortably in one layer. Douse with olive oil, like you're marinating them. Add the herbs and garlic, and season generously with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes a few times to mix in the herbs and seasoning.
2. Roast in the oven, scraping up and turning the potatoes every 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are well caramelized and tender, about 40 minutes.