The base of this dish is a classic French pomme purée, dressed up for a visit to Provence with the addition of garlic, a golden rivulet of extra virgin olive oil, a swirl of pounded olives and anchovies, and a shower of minced parsley. The purée by itself is a revelation. It’s buttery, velvety, and wholly lump-free, with a texture achieved only by using an inexpensive piece of equipment that every home cook should invest in: a potato ricer. By extruding the cooked flesh through the tiny holes of the ricer, you’ll break down the potato without the spinning blade of a food processor (which creates gumminess) or the too-coarse wires of a traditional masher (which always leaves lumps, no matter how hard you mash). In short, served plain, these are the mashed potatoes to mound under gravy at Thanksgiving, to go with any long-braised meat stew, or alongside your holiday roast. The briny, salty, piquant tapenade is just an added bonus, and makes this dish a unique accompaniment for grilled leg of lamb or whole roasted fish.
Serves 6-8 as a side dish.
3 pounds Russet or German Butterball potatoes, peeled and quartered
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 big sprigs fresh thyme (a small handful)
Extra virgin olive oil, the best you can find
1 small clove garlic
4 anchovy fillets
½ pint oil-cured Provencal olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup flat leaf Italian parsley leaves, minced
Place the cut potatoes in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil, skimming away any foam that may appear on the surface of the water. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, about 15-20 minutes or until tender and cooked through.
While the potatoes cook, combine the milk and cream in a saucepan and add the bay leaf, smashed garlic cloves, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer (watch that it doesn’t boil over!), reduce the heat, and cook for 15 minutes, infusing the dairy with the aromatics.
In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt (for abrasion), then pound in the anchovies and olives until you have a coarse and chunky sauce. Dribble in a bit of olive oil to loosen it, and set aside.
When the potatoes are cooked through, drain well in a colander and allow them to cool slightly. When they’re cool enough to handle, press them through a ricer into a large bowl and strain the milk-cream mixture over the top; stir through, taste for seasoning, and add more salt if needed.
Pour the potato purée onto a large, deep platter and create a well in the middle by swirling the spoon as you spread it. Drizzle with olive oil and the tapenade, sprinkle with more pepper, and shower with the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Note: if you wish to make the potato purée a few hours in advance, you can keep it warm in a double boiler or a slow cooker for several hours. Dress with the olive oil, tapenade, and parsley right before serving.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, soccer mom, Italophile and managing editor at Edible Boston. She can be reached at email@example.com.