I’m a planner.
I plan menus for clients weeks in advance. I make copious lists. I try not to leave anything to chance … especially when I’m entertaining.
So when the husband announced a couple of weeks ago that he’d invited a coworker from Boston for drinks and dinner, I started planning. In honor of the 70-degree, zero-humidity June we were having, I decided a backyard feast was appropriate. We’d have a grilled flank steak, butterflied and stuffed with chard from the garden. A red-leaf and fennel salad. Green beans tossed in a mustard vinaigrette.
And of course, the party potatoes.
I’ve been making “party potatoes” for years. They’re a riff on a very old Bon Appetit recipe. You boil whole potatoes until they’re tender, put them in a casserole dish and smash them with a fork or potato masher. You douse them with olive oil and bake in a 400-degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Add copious amounts of chopped garlic and more olive oil, then bake another 20 minutes. They’re crisp on top; tender and oil-perfumed underneath. Sometimes I throw feta cheese and fresh dill on them as they come out of the oven.
Party potatoes are always a hit. But they sure do heat up the house. Still, our June had been so lovely, and it was actually a little chilly at night. A 400-degree oven wasn’t going to bother anyone.
Unfortunately, the weather changed. Party day dawned at 100-plus degrees. Eating outside was out of the question. So was heating my oven to 400 degrees.
“You aren’t doing party potatoes?” my husband asked. “I love party potatoes. Can’t you grill them?”
Actually, I’ve done that. You put the smashed potatoes in a stainless cake pan and heat them above the grill rack. They’re good. But they don’t get the crisp top that makes this dish distinct.
Even though I love to plan, I love playing with my food even more. So I started riffing on the party potato theme.
I went ahead and boiled six, medium yellow- and red-skinned potatoes. When they were just fork tender, I drained them, then covered them in the cooking pot to cool.
While the potatoes cooled, I whisked together equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, then threw in about 1/2 cup chopped herbs. (I used a mix of lemon basil, purple basil, tarragon, rosemary, thyme and dill.) Then I seasoned the dressing with salt and pepper.
When the potatoes were cool, I sliced them into 1/2-inch thick disks. Brushed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then took them out to the grill.
Making sure the grill was very hot, I laid the disks directly on the grill rack, closed the lid, and let them cook until the bottoms had nice char marks (probably 2-3 minutes). Then I turned the potatoes over and grilled them for an additional 2-3 minutes. When they were crisp, I put them on a plate and spooned the lemon-herb dressing over them.
The potatoes were fantastic. We ate them at room temperature, with the flank steak set atop. They were crisp on the outside, tender inside, citrusy from the dressing that had soaked in and fresh from the herbs. My husband got his party potatoes, my house stayed cool, and my much-planned menu stayed pretty true to its original form.
I may have made my dinner planning a little more difficult, though. Now when I say I’m making “party potatoes,” which potatoes will it be?