Let me start this blog post by saying that potatoes are my favorite vegetable. They are delicious, filling, versatile and easy to cook. Both in Hungarian and Romanian cuisine the potato is sacred and it's used a lot, either as a side dish, or as a dish of its own (most often a casserole). Ask any of your friends that has been to Eastern Europe what was the side dish for that amazing gulyás, pörkölt or snițel.
As a teenager, I ate a lot. Even though my mom and grandma always found joy in cooking for me, there were times when they ran out of ideas for meals. During the summer it was easy as they would make me grab vegetables from the garden and prepare myself a salad with olive oil and a lots of bread. During the winter though it was harder to get a hold of fresh vegetables so they had to rely on my grandpa who preserved his vegetables in his cellar. Even though it wasn't well-lit, warm or even paved, the cellar was where my grandpa spent a lot of time during the winter. The main reason was that he stored barrels of wine and ţuică (Romanian brandy made out of plums) there, as well as a lot of root vegetables that he harvested during the fall. He filled up a corner of the basement with a foot of sand where he kept the carrot, parsley, potato, kohlrabi and celery roots covered during the winter. The sand kept the vegetables from freezing during the winter, and also kept them hydrated because the sand absorbed the moisture from the ground.
I remember the nights when my whole family would just sit around the kitchen table and eat baked potatoes with fresh butter. My mom would just toss a few whole potatoes in the oven, roast them then serve them with butter, salt and pepper. It was delicious and to this day, every time I eat potatoes with butter, I remember the aroma that filled our kitchen on those cold winter nights.
Fondant potatoes may sound fancy and complicated to a lot of people. If you take a look at the recipe though, you soon realize that they are actually browned potatoes slowly roasted in butter and stock. You probably find them on the side dish menu at French restaurants as Pommes Fondantes. I made this for the first time a few years ago after watching an episode of Essential Pepin. I experimented with different combination of aromatics, but the ultimate winner is the garlic and thyme combo. You can try using rosemary instead of thyme, or pearl onions instead of garlic. Don't be afraid to experiment with this dish, as it's almost impossible to mess up. Have fun!
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
- 1 1/2 lbs baby potatoes, halved (peeled or unpeeled)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 TBS peanut oil (canola or sunflower seed)
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 TBS butter, unsalted
- 3/4 cup stock (vegetable or chicken)
- 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- coarse sea salt, to taste
- 1 TBS parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)
- Preheat oven to 415F (210C) degrees.
- Sprinkle potatoes with salt and pepper.
- In a heavy bottomed skillet heat up oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is sizzling hot, gently place the potatoes in the pan with the cut size down. It is important that the oil be hot, otherwise the potatoes will stick to the skillet.
- Roast for about 4-5 minutes until they get a nice golden brown sear. Turn them over and repeat the procedure for another 4-5 minutes or until the other side becomes golden brown as well.
- Add thyme, garlic and butter. Toss to coat the potatoes with melted butter and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Carefully pour in stock and season with salt and pepper. The hot grease may splatter when it gets in contact with the stock, so pay extra attention.
- Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes until potatoes are tender and easy to pierce with a knife.
- Remove from the oven, sprinkle more black pepper, salt and parmesan cheese if you'd like and toss. Serve hot.