Mediterranean Crushed Potatoes with Olive Oil and Lemon (aka, a lesson in seasoning)
I love the brightness of lemon against the creaminess of potatoes, especially those you find at your local market in the early summer. New potatoes are tender and sweet, with the thinnest of skin, making them ideal for a rustic mash-up. Add a mix of pungent, salty green olives and capers, a generous drizzle of olive oil and some fresh herbs for a simple side dish that’s big on flavor.
The size of the potatoes is less important than their freshness. Early season potatoes are loaded with moisture that make them super creamy when mashed. The skin hasn’t had a chance to fully form yet, so there is no need to peel them, just make sure you’ve given them a good scrub to get rid of any dirt. Peel or pare away any bruised spots.
This recipe is a fun way to practice your seasoning. The amounts for the lemon juice and olive oil are only rough suggestions; you should use your own judgment about when enough is enough. Fortunately, in this recipe it’s hard to go wrong. Here’s a suggestion for how to go about it:
- Add a little more than half the lemon juice, combining it well with the crushed potatoes
- You are looking for that bright freshness of the lemon to come through clearly. It will taste good at this point, but the lemon will likely be a little subtler than it could be.
- Add more lemon juice and taste again. Each addition will make it more pronounced. I like this good and lemony, but stop when you’re happy with it.
- Mix in a little more than half of the olive oil.
- The oil adds richness as well as its own distinctive flavor. What you’re looking for is a harmony between all of the elements: creamy potato, bright lemon, and rich olive oil. This is what chef’s call ‘balancing flavors’.
- Add more oil, a tablespoon at a time, until it hits a sweet spot for you.
- If at this point the flavors don’t ‘pop’ quite the way you’re expecting, you may want to add a little more salt, about a ¼ tsp of at a time. Stir it in well and give it 15-20 seconds to dissolve before tasting again. This is where people often get caught up and over-salt. It does take a little while for the salt to dissolve into the food. Give it that time, and then taste again.
- When you’re happy, fold in the garnish ingredients and you’re done!
- 1 ½ lbs/675g Potatoes, the size is less important than the age. Try to find first of the season potatoes from your local farmers market. If they aren’t available, choose a potato with a thin skin
- Kosher Salt for the cooking water
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- 6-8 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tbsp capers, drained and roughly chopped
- 8 large green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp roughly chopped basil, around 4 large leaves)
- 2 tbsp roughly chopped green onion (the white and a little green of 1 green onion)
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Give the potatoes a good scrub to rid them of any lingering dirt
- Place them in a pot of cold water, enough to cover by around an inch
- Add enough salt to make the water taste like the sea. A good rule of thumb is around 1 tbsp of kosher salt for every quart/liter of water (1 ½ tsp fine grind salt). It sounds like a lot, but this is the best time to season your potatoes.
- Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are tender. That will be 15-20 for golf ball-size potatoes.
- Drain them well
- Return them to the pot, or a mixing bowl, and mash them gently. Leave them really chunky at this point as they well get mashed more as you incorporate the lemon juice and olive oil
- Squeeze in most of the lemon juice and mix well. Give it a taste. It should be really quite bright, but not overwhelmingly lemony. Add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Mine used a full lemon.
- Stir in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and give it another taste. You want to be able to taste all three elements: potato, lemon, oil. Add more oil until the taste of the oil is clear and the potatoes are as creamy as you would like. I used around 7 tablespoons for my potatoes
- When you’re happy with how your potatoes taste, add the capers, olives and herbs. Give them a gentle stir to incorporate.
- Side note: The potatoes likely won’t need any further salt unless they were particularly large potatoes, then you may need to add a bit more salt. Add a ¼ tsp of kosher salt at a time, mixing well and giving it a few seconds to dissolve before adding any more. You don’t want these to be over salted!
- Add a generous grinding of black pepper; keep it coarse so you get those little pops of peppery spice.