My Irish-American husband grew up eating white and yellow potatoes almost every night. I didn’t, and barely knew how to cook one when when we got married.
Fast forward a few decades and I’ve come to love them almost as much as he does. Baked, roasted, hasselback and of course in latkes, the humble potato is now one of my favorite side dishes.
Still experimenting with potato recipes, I came up with these unscalloped potatoes last month. They are inspired by two recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi. Perhaps more precisely, unscalloped potatoes are what we Americans call a “mash-up” of the two recipes – the concept of thinly sliced baked potatoes from one recipe, paired with the sauce from the other.
The result is a side dish that is almost as good at room temperature as it is hot from the oven. The casserole of thinly sliced yellow potatoes, gets crispy on the top and slightly chewy in the center. After baking, you serve it topped with a creamy sauce that has just a bit of tartness and no cheese, and for a final touch sprinkle over the potatoes and sauce a Middle Eastern spice and herb mixture called zaatar. (No, I didn’t mispell it, the name has two “a”s in the middle.)
With No Fuss Potato Casserole (a riff on Ottolenghi’s sweet potato gratin) still fresh in my mind, I made Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce, the recipe that is on the cover of Ottolenghi’s third cookbook, Plenty. The buttermilk and yogurt sauce from the eggplant recipe was much smoother and more interesting than plain yogurt and much richer and more full-bodied than a sauce made only with buttermilk. The zaatar finished it nicely.
Though I probably would not have been impressed with the pairing if it were described to me, when I tried the zaatar-topped sauce with potatoes, the result was remarkable.
It was practical too, as any leftover potato casserole and sauce are stored separately. I could keep the sauce at room temperature in its own container (taking it out just shortly before I wanted to use it) while heating up the leftover potato casserole in the toaster oven. Then when I combined them, the effect was the same as when they were freshly made.
This recipe is also great if you have some who like spices and others who go for plainer food. Unlike Indian potato and yogurt recipes, in which curry and other strong spices are incorporated into a yogurt sauce, you add the spice at the end in this one. So if you have someone who doesn’t want the zaatar (and unscalloped potatoes do taste great even without zaatar), you can adjust the seasoning for each serving. Same for the sauce.
You could use a mandoline to slice the potatoes, but I cut these by hand.
Layering the potato slices brushing them with olive oil and adding a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and fresh thyme takes just a few minutes.
While the potatoes bake, you simply mix the buttermilk, yogurt, and a bit of mashed or finely diced garlic. Refrigerate that mixture to give it time for the flavors to meld and when the potatoes are served, top them with the sauce and the zaatar. Easy.
With a main course of baked or roasted chicken or squash, a simple salad, and maybe a loaf of bread, you could definitely do this as a weeknight dinner. Or, how about a casserole of these unscalloped potatoes at your next brunch, with a simple plate of eggs and maybe some bacon or sausage?