Every fall, it seems, it's the same story. There's a beautiful abundant crop of basil in the garden, one that has already given itself to many great meals over the course of the previous weeks. Every day I look at it and say, I've got to pick that and make a bunch of pesto. Invariably my procrastination and the first good frost together dash all hope of that last big batch of pesto. Last year, however, was different. One day while I was daydreaming, Laurie picked all the basil and parsley and made pesto; lots and lots of pesto; more pesto, in fact, then we had ever made before.
Fast-forward to spring where the abundance of pesto lingers on. We pack our pesto in wide-mouth pint jars topped with olive oil and either freeze them or store them in the refrigerator. We use our pesto in several ways, primarily on pasta and as an addition to soups, but these uses were no match for this year’s supply. Add to that two other elements that contributed to what might be termed a perfect storm of gustatory delight. First, our potato crop last year was huge. I don't know why exactly, and I didn't weigh them at harvest, but I know that the root cellar is still brimming with buckets of some ten different varieties of the delicious spuds from Banana fingerlings to Purple Vikings, from Island Sunshine to Elba to Yellow Finns and more. The final factor fell into place when one day the chickens woke up from their long winter’s nap and decided to start laying eight to ten eggs every day. Thus was I led to a course of experimentation that resulted in the following recipe. We are finally making a dent in that huge supply of pesto.
(Please note: An idea this good has probably been discovered independently several times, much as that other great idea, calculus, was invented independently by both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. I make the claim here, not so much of originality, as of ignorance of the efforts of others in the field of PR (pesto research).)
2lbs potatoes (your choice)
1 medium to large onion
2 heads garlic (or to taste)
½ to 2/3 cup basil pesto
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
Olive oil for sauté
Dash of Tamari
2 tsp zataar (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a 10" cast-iron skillet with olive oil. Cut up potatoes as you would for home fries (I quarter and slice mine thin but what ever shape pleases you). Place in skillet to fry with salt to taste. Chop onions and garlic and add to the potatoes. Cover over medium heat stirring occasionally until potatoes are fork tender. (A note on garlic: Those who have read previous articles of mine know I am of the tribe that considers garlic a vegetable not a condiment. I like my garlic in copious amounts coarsely chopped so that I can see as well as taste its goodness). With the exception of zataar, about which more later, I did not include any herbs or spices in my ingredient list. However, you can at this point add any that you particularly enjoy with potatoes. Cumin is nice as are oregano, dill weed, and marjoram. This dish is about experimentation. Sprinkle the potatoes with a dash of the tamari and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove the potatoes from the heat and stir in pesto. Break cheese into small chunks and distribute on top of potato-pesto mixture. Beat the eggs together with the zataar and pour over potatoes. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until the top begins to brown and eggs are thoroughly cooked. Serve immediately.
A note about zataar: When a few years ago, my niece married a handsome young man from Jordan (who happened to be a chef), one of the things they brought from the Middle East was zataar. It's a spice mixture that, in Jordan and Lebanon, is an essential part of the daily diet. It is most often served with olive oil and bread, where the bread is broken into pieces, dipped into the olive oil then into the zataar and then eaten. It can be found in many Halal markets and stores featuring Middle Eastern products. I noticed that Regional Access food distributor in Trumansburg has it in their catalog, or you can make it at home. When my niece first gave me a package I asked, "what do I do with it?" "You put it on food, dummy!" She replied. I experimented and found it contributes it's unique and pleasing flavor to just about anything, but I especially enjoyed what it added to eggs. Since then I rarely make eggs without adding a bit of zataar to the mix. For those who wish to make the authentic Potato-Pesto Frittata I here include a recipe for homemade zataar which I adapted from BigOven.com
4 tsp oregano
2 Tbs thyme
2 tsp savory
1 Tbs marjoram
1 Tbs sumac powder
1/3 cup sesame seed
1 ½ tsp salt
Finely minced peel of 2 lemons (just the yellow)
The commercial variety of zataar is finely powdered (except for the sesame seeds which are left whole). You can powder the ingredients in a mortar and pestle before adding the sesame seeds or leave them as is. You will sometimes see sumac as sumech, however it is just the ordinary red tops of the staghorn sumac which grows abundantly in the region.
A final word on experiments: I have also made this recipe substituting jerusalem artichokes for some of the potatoes. When I do that I like to sauté the jerusalem artichokes for a few minutes by themselves until they begin to carmelize. This imparts a wonderful sweetness to the mix. I’ve realized over the years that the contents of the root cellar are a constant challenge to the creative homestead cook. In fact the ultimate challenge here at the homestead is not to grow everything you eat, but rather to eat everything you grow.
On their homestead in Meco, NY, Jim and his partner Laurie Freeman practice their own brand of culinary alchemy as they search for the key to transforming Idaho Russets into Yukon Gold.