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Dressed-up mashed potatoes

Can you make the ultimate comfort food even better? You can.

By Adam Ried
November 22, 2009

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Some Thanksgiving side dishes come and go, but not the mashed potatoes. It just isn’t a holiday without them (my friend Catrine can attest to the mayhem that ensued the year she substituted a potato gratin). Whether they’re fluffy or creamy, rich or light, or chunky or silky doesn’t matter as long as they’re present and accounted for.

Because I go for a fluffy, silky texture, I think russets are the right potato for the job. Steaming rather than boiling the potatoes and rinsing them before and during cooking -- a technique I learned from Cook’s Illustrated -- washes away some of the starch, helping to lighten the texture. Jazzing up the mash is fun for a celebratory meal, as long as the flavors complement the earthy potatoes. In these versions, artichokes and Parmesan add nutty notes, while caramelized onions and roasted parsnips bring subtle sweetness.

Mashed Potatoes With Artichokes and Parmesan

Serves 6

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, 5 tablespoons of it melted

2 9-ounce packages frozen artichoke hearts, cooked, drained, and finely chopped

Salt and pepper

1½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme or oregano

2 cloves garlic, minced

2½ pounds russet potatoes (5 to 7 medium-large), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks, and rinsed in 2 changes of water

1 cup whole milk or half-and-half, warmed, or more, as desired

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the 2 tablespoons of unmelted butter. When it stops foaming, add the chopped artichokes, a pinch of salt, and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring frequently, until the artichokes look dry and a shade darker, about 7 minutes. Stir in the thyme or oregano and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Cover the pan and set aside off heat.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a steaming basket that fits inside a large pot. Fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the basket, and set it over high heat. Once the water boils, steam the potatoes, covered, over medium-high heat until tender, about 20 minutes (midway through cooking, remove the basket and rinse the potatoes under cool running water for about 1 minute). Remove the basket and discard the water.

Force the potatoes through a ricer into the pot. Add the 5 tablespoons of melted butter and gently fold. Add ½ cup of the warm milk or half-and-half and fold. Add another ½ cup of milk or half-and-half, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, the artichokes, and the Parmesan, and fold. Taste the potatoes and adjust with salt and pepper and warm milk or half-and-half, if desired, and serve at once.

Mashed Potatoes With Caramelized Onions, Cognac, and Nutmeg

Serves 6

1 tablespoon canola oil

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, 5 tablespoons of it melted

2 pounds onions (about 4 medium-large), thinly sliced

Salt and pepper

½ cup cognac or brandy

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

2½ pounds russet potatoes (5 to 7 medium-large), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks, and rinsed in 2 changes of water

1 cup whole milk or half-and-half, warmed, or more, as desired

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil and the 1 tablespoon of unmelted butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the onions, a pinch of salt, and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium (or lower, as necessary) and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onions are deeply caramelized and reduced to between 1 and 1½ cups, about 40 minutes. Add the cognac and cook, stirring constantly, until the smell of alcohol dissipates, 1 to 2 minutes, then stir in the nutmeg. Cover the pan and set aside off heat. (For a smoother consistency, process the onions in a food processor.)

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a steaming basket that fits inside a large pot. Fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the basket, and set it over high heat. Once the water boils, steam the potatoes, covered, over medium-high heat until tender, about 20 minutes (midway through cooking, remove the basket and rinse the potatoes under cool running water for about 1 minute). Remove the basket and discard the water.

Force the potatoes through a ricer into the pot. Add the 5 tablespoons of melted butter and gently fold. Add ½ cup of the warm milk or half-and-half and fold. Add another ½ cup of milk or half-and-half, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper to taste, and the onion mixture, and fold. Taste the potatoes and adjust with salt and pepper and warm milk or half-and-half, if desired, and serve at once.

Mashed Potatoes With Roasted Parsnips and Rosemary

Serves 6

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

2½ pounds russet potatoes (5 to 7 medium-large), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks, and rinsed in 2 changes of water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup whole milk or half-and-half, warmed, or more, as desired

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the parsnips, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. On a baking sheet, roast the parsnips until tender and browned in spots, about 30 minutes, tossing the parsnips halfway through the cooking time. Stir in the rosemary. Off heat, cover the pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a steaming basket that fits inside a large pot. Fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the basket, and set it over high heat. Once the water boils, steam the potatoes, covered, over medium-high heat until tender, about 20 minutes (midway through cooking, remove the basket and rinse the potatoes under cool running water for about 1 minute). Remove the basket and discard the water.

Force the potatoes through a ricer into the pot. Add the melted butter and gently fold. Add ½ cup of the warm milk or half-and-half and fold. Add another ½ cup of milk or half-and-half, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper to taste, and the parsnip mixture, and fold. Taste the potatoes and adjust with salt and pepper and warm milk or half-and-half, if desired, and serve at once.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

  • November 22, 2009 cover
  • november 22 globe magazine cover
Read more from this issue.

Kitchen Aide: The Potato Ricer

> In my experience, mashing potatoes with a ricer produces the smoothest, most consistent texture. The tool resembles a giant garlic press and works the same way: You press cooked potatoes through a hopper with one perforated end. Look for a ricer with long, sturdy handles for good leverage, a large hopper with interchangeable fine and coarse disks, and an extension to help hold the ricer steady on the rim of a pot.