Spinach Potato Mash
I have to say, I don’t know if there’s anything I like so much as a big bowl of mashed potatoes for dinner, especially in February, when it’s cold and damp and winter is still a long way from being over. Before I knew the first thing about cooking, or sound nutrition, for that matter, I would frequently mix up a pot of fake, dehydrated mashed potato flakes and happily enjoy my beige dinner. And my parents always knew to quadruple the mashed potato recipe at Thanksgiving if they wanted any hope of leftovers.
I do still love mashed potatoes, but have since figured out that if I want to eat them for dinner, it would be wise to find some way to make them a more complete (and healthy) meal. Not to knock the humble potato. Potatoes have a reputation for being nutritionally suspect, but one potato packs a healthy wallop of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, and fiber, not to mention a ton of important, good energy for the proper functioning of the body. Potatoes are most certainly our friends.
A few years ago, I read about Irish colcannon, and my mashed potato loving world was forever changed. Colcannon is basically mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or kale, and in my world, it can also be mixed with any other winter green you might have on hand: spinach, chard, rapini, collards. The greens add some extra good vitamins and minerals, and if you go with spinach, as I often do, you’ve got a solid amount of iron and calcium. And the slight bitterness of greens adds a nice dimension to sometimes bland potatoes, meaning you need a lot less butter and salt to make them interesting.
This is an excellent meal to make if you’re having dinner solo, and is very easy to scale up if you want to make more. I usually go with one large or two small potatoes for single serving mashed potatoes, and if you use good mashed potato technique, you only need about a tablespoon of butter, if that, and two tablespoons of milk. I usually add cheese, too, because I love cheese, but an ounce or two is enough to add creaminess and flavor.
Spinach Potato Mash, for one
- 1 large or 2 small russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon butter
- about 2 tablespoons milk (I use whole milk)
- a bit less than 1/4 cup cheese (I used muenster)
- about 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- 2 or 3 big handfuls of spinach, cleaned and de-stemmed and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large saucepan of salted water until it comes to a boil. If you’re using more potatoes, use a bigger pot, but if you’re making single serving mashed potatoes, you want to use a pot that just fits them. Add the potatoes and cook them for about 15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk so it’s a little warmer than room temperature. I usually use the microwave, but if you think ahead better than I do, you can put the milk in a small bowl or mug and set it on the stove, next to a burner, so it warms from the heat of the stove. Or you can heat it in a small saucepan. You just don’t want to use straight-from-the-refrigerator cold milk or the potatoes will get all gummy.
When the potatoes are about five minutes from being done, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and garlic, and saute just until wilted. Season with salt and pepper (just a little), and set aside.
When the potatoes are just soft enough to stick a fork into easily, but not so soft they fall apart, drain them. Return them to the pan over low heat, with the butter. Stir until the butter is thoroughly melted and the potatoes are beginning to be mashed. Then stir in the milk. Use just enough milk to make the potatoes creamy, but not enough to make them wet. I usually just add a splash at a time until they reach the texture I like. Then stir in the greens and the cheese, and add more seasoning if necessary. And you have got yourself a tasty bowl of comfort.
And just to recap for all you fine mashed potato lovers out there: Here is what I’ve discovered through years of trial and error (and reading Bon Appetit) to be the perfect mashed potato technique.
- Cook the potatoes whole. Ok, I don’t always do this part because it takes longer, but if you cook them whole and peel them later, they become a bit less water logged. The rest of the steps are more important.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, add them back to the pot over low heat, skins removed if you prefer (although that’s where a lot of the good stuff is). Start to mash them in the pot before adding any other ingredients. This allows the potatoes to dry out just a little bit, making them less watery and more creamy.
- Add the butter first. This allows the fat to coat the potatoes more evenly. Stir and mash until the butter is completely melted before adding your liquid dairy component.
- I usually use whole milk, but feel free to experiment with the liquid bit. The only real trick is to make sure it’s warm. Adding cold milk to hot potatoes will cause nothing but bad.
- If you want to add sour cream, plain yogurt, cheese, roasted garlic, or herbs, this is your chance. Keep in mind if you’re adding more dairy, ease up on the milk a little bit so you don’t end up with runny potatoes.
Seriously, perfect mashed potatoes. Add a little greenery, and you have a perfectly healthy and still mighty comforting dinner on a cold winter night. It’s so good I might even want to eat it again tomorrow.