At dinner with an Italian friend, he began musing about potatoes. He started with a rant about fast food. “You’d think that peeling and frying a real potato was the equivalent of going to the moon,” he said. Then he described a childhood comfort food, one that seemed both more rustic and more sophisticated than a similar one I ate: not-bad mashed potatoes integrated with wretched canned peas.
His version: mash potatoes with olive oil, incorporate cooked dandelion greens, top with bread crumbs, bake.
I haven’t made this for him yet, but I’ve prepared it three times myself, and I’m addicted.
One thing that is unusual in this dish is that the amount of potatoes and the amount of greens are equal; each one pound. The oil is significant, but we all know that what makes mashed potatoes really good is fat. Use the best olive oil you have.
Even the youngest, mildest dandelion greens — among the first edible greens of spring — are bitter. To tame them a bit, blanch them in well-salted boiling water. You can use the same water as you used for the potatoes; I do. They’re also tamed by the potato itself and, since even the most flavorful potato is pretty bland, the dish works both ways.
If dandelion greens are hard to find, arugula, watercress, escarole, radicchio, spinach, mustard or turnip greens, even collards or kale can serve well here, too. The blanching time may vary — collards might need a bit more time to become tender, for example — but the technique remains the same.
The greens and potatoes are mashed together with the olive oil, topped with homemade bread crumbs, drizzled with a bit more olive oil and baked until golden brown. At which point, regardless of your national heritage, you will devour them.
Green Mashed Potatoes
Time: About 45 minutes
2 large starchy or all-purpose potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into quarters
1 pound dandelion or other greens, washed and trimmed of thick stems
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup homemade bread crumbs.
1. Put potatoes in a large, deep pot and cover them with cold water. Add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cook until soft but not falling apart, 15 to 30 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain; meanwhile, add greens to water and cook for about 1 minute. Rinse under cold water. Drain well, then chop.
2. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Rice potatoes, run them through a food mill, or mash them with a fork or potato masher, adding enough olive oil to moisten them well. Mash in the greens, adding more olive oil as needed. Sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper.
3. Put mixture in an ovenproof dish and top with bread crumbs. Drizzle with more olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake until bread crumbs are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve hot or warm.
Yield: 4 servings.