May 14 2010

Minimalist Creativity

Our final CSA from the always wonderful Garden of Eve Farm resulted in….more potatoes!  Potatoes have always been one of my favorite foods (I am Irish, after all), but I’m starting to lose creativity and motivation after 5 months of cooking with potatoes.  I’m craving squash and berries and okra.

This week, I spread my cookbooks on the floor, flipped to each index and looked through all of the potato recipes I could find. Some were uninspired, while others were too complicated for a weekday meal.  Next time I’ll save myself 15 minutes and start with Mark Bittman’s “The Minimalist Cooks at Home”.  Bittman is a celebrated New York Times writer and cookbook author who focuses on building flavor from very few ingredients. His recipes are accessible and his cookbooks encourage you to be as adventurous as you feel like.  Each recipe offers several variations, in case you want to take his minimal recipe one step further.

I didn’t want to take ‘Pasta with Potatoes’ one step further; it ended it up just the way we wanted it.

Not only did we make a (very) small dent in our bag of potatoes, but because Wednesday ended up being gloomier than expected, we comforted ourselves with this warm stew-like pasta.

This recipe is perfect for a night when you want fresh food but can’t be bothered with something exact or even aesthetically pleasing.  Bittman encourages you to use your leftover pasta, to break your pasta up into smaller pieces, and to cook the pasta to al dente or let it sit:  it’s all your choice!  The pasta cooks in the tomato’s juices and all of the ingredients absorb the peppery warmth.

Try it out!

Bittman's Pasta with Potatoes


2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup minced pancetta or bacon, optional

3 or 4 potatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds, peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

3 or 4 small dried hot red chiles, or to taste (or substitute about 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)

1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, not drained

1 1/2 pounds assorted dried pasta

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Put several cups of water in a pot on stove, and keep it at a simmer. Place olive oil in a large saucepan, and turn heat to medium. If you're using pancetta or bacon, add it to the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until it becomes slightly crisp, about 10 minutes. (If you are omitting the meat, proceed to the next step.)
  2. Add potatoes, garlic and chiles and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown all over, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and their juice, along with 2 cups of the simmering water, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low, and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally to break up the tomatoes and prevent sticking.
  4. While potato mixture is cooking, break long dried pasta, like spaghetti, into several lengths; place cut pasta, like ziti, in a bag, and break it up with the back of a pot or a hammer. After potato mixture has simmered for about 10 minutes, add pasta and plenty of salt and pepper to pot. Simmer, stirring and adding the simmering water as necessary; mixture should remain thick and stewy, never dry.
  5. When potatoes are tender and pasta quite tender -- this will take 20 minutes or more -- the dish is done. Check the seasoning, and add some crushed red pepper flakes, black pepper or salt if needed. Serve hot, in bowls.