I've been told that as a child I would not eat anything broken. This included crackers, sandwiches, and the like. Perhaps this was the first evidence of the perfectionist gene rearing its ugly head, the first-born syndrome on display. So imagine how cracking and smashing perfectly round potatoes doesn't sit well with me. They split and fall apart in a chaotic mess, every potato taking a various broken shape of sorts. Some don't hold together at all, and it irks me. I like whole food. I like perfect food. But the thing is, I love this method for the crusty fried and creamy potato it yields. And so, against my better judgment, I stand poised with a heavy glass, smashing the potatoes one by one, watching the skin crack. I try to brush it off. It's no big deal I say, but the hair on the back of my neck stands up, and I secretly want to scream DO-OVER! and put the pieces back together. I try to let it go.
The idea for these potatoes came about during a visit to a spice shop of all places; a small shop in Cambridge lined with all things exotic; dried herbs, teas, grains, flours, heirloom beans, and legumes. It's the kind of place I lose track of time in, inspecting bottles of intriguing spices and imagining earthy floral scents wafting from kitchens tucked in far away corners of the world. I stocked up on some moth beans, Lebanese couscous, chickpea flour, whole nutmeg, and a beautiful bottle of bright red paprika. I also have a newfound urge to clean out my pantry, more on that later. On my way out of the shop, I remembered the bag of tiny colorful potatoes sitting in my passenger seat from the market, which decidedly would collide with the paprika.
The potatoes and paprika flirted together in my cast iron pan the following morning and were served for Sunday brunch with scrambled eggs and toast. It was a breakfast of champions. I have a soft spot for baby potatoes, and purple ones at that. The trick to these potatoes is to boil them first, crack and smash them second, and fry them last. They crisp up in a bath of steamy hot oil and onions. The blacked onions are equally as charming as the potatoes. They're messy and far from perfect, but need no fixing. I've found the same to hold true with most fruits and vegetables these days. Often the best tasting varieties have a bruise or two, are a bit maimed, or present themselves in odd shapes. I'm becoming more open to these ugly ducklings and underdogs. Perfectionism is overrated anyways. I'm learning to love broken food for both its quirky nature and standout flavor. It feels good to let go.
~Smashed Paprika Baby Potatoes Recipe~
1 1/2 lb mixed baby potato varieties (I used 12)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 tsp paprika
chopped cilantro for garnishing
Clean and scrub potatoes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil potatoes for 10-15 minutes, until they can easily be pierced with a knife. The time will vary depending on the size of your potatoes. You can also do this step ahead of time, storing your cooked potatoes until you are ready to fry them off.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and paprika, cooking for a few minutes to break the onion down. Once potatoes have finished cooking, drain and set aside. Let cool until they can be easily handled. Place on a solid work surface. Using the bottom of a glass, rolling pin, or masher, push down slightly until the potatoes crack. Place potatoes into the skillet. Cook for about 10 minutes on each side, or until brown and crispy. You'll also want to flip the onions as you flip the potatoes. Serves 4, as a side.