You say potato, I say potahto…

Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes






Let’s make both

By Laura Pensiero, RD

The arrival of the holiday season first brings to mind the harvest Thanksgiving table. While later holiday feasts definitely delight–and, unfortunately, fatten us up for the long winter ahead–Thanksgiving is mostly about celebrating the harvest, breaking bread with those you love (even if you don’t like them).

Aside from the normal family tensions, heated political and sports debates, burned rolls left in the even, and general misbehavior, I find one food item can always get conversations started. The mashed potatoes. Everyone has an opinion, and no one is right. It starts with consistency: smashed, mashed, pureed, whipped. (I’m going to lump, so to speak, mashed, pureed, and whipped together going forward here, since they are often considered interchangeably.) So let’s discuss smashed versus mashed.

Classic mashed, along with the often fluffier whipped potatoes, are typically considered to be the more refined and traditional version. Smashed? What lazy clod would boil a few potatoes then simply smash, season, and send it to the table? Actually, many of us, and they’re good.

For this chunkier version, a masher and a little arm strength are the essentials. After draining the tender potatoes, choose whether or not to remove the skins (not necessary, especially with red, new, or smaller waxy potatoes, or even Yukon Gold).

There are many approaches to creating the classic creamy and fluffy mashed potatoes. For this style I’d stick with a starchier potato like Russet or Yukon Gold. As for equipment, I’m a fan of the potato ricer. This device is inexpensive and results in drier rice-like pieces of potato that can then be the base to which butter, warmed milk and/or cream and seasonings can be folded into. The traditional mixer (standing or hand held) works, but you run the risk of over-mixing and getting a gluey sticky mess. Unlike smashed potatoes, which can be enjoyed skin on or off, mashed potatoes should be peeled before cooking. Alternately they can be peeled when still warm after. I find the easiest and fastest course is to peel and cube them before cooking in salted water. Drain them and then pull out your ricer or mixer.

Just to get the dialogue a little spicier, how about all of the potential  additions to either smashed or mashed potatoes… garlic, herbs, mushrooms, sautéed onions, cheese, sour cream, peas, etc. Mix some mashed turnip or rutabaga into your Thanksgiving potatoes. You’ll love it–even as you hear every kid in the room scream, “Why’d you go and ruin the mashed potatoes!”

Some tips to get the potatoes just right:

  • Always cook in salted water.
  • Pick the right potato for the right preparation (waxy for smashed, starchy for mashed).
  • Always heat the milk and/or cream and butter before adding to mashed or smashed potatoes.
  • Don’t over mix, mash, or fold.
  • More butter (or oil) isn’t always better.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, and a catering business. She currently offers a Thanksgiving menu order for pickup or delivery service accessible at

Local potatoes anyone?

RSK Farms
13255 Route 23A, Prattsville, NJ

Brittany Hollow Farm
150 Route 9 North, Rhinebeck, NY

Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes

Makes 6 to 8 servings

So simple! If you want to spike this up, consider sautéing some thyme leaves and thinly sliced garlic cloves in another tablespoon or two of olive oil and folding it into smashed potatoes.

2 pounds small-medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons excellent quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and ground white pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them a few inches. Season the water with salt and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender but still hold their shape, 15 to 30 minutes depending on size and shape. Drain potatoes and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Peel potatoes (or not) and mash them with a handheld potato masher until blended but slightly chunky. Gently stir in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Classic Mashed Potatoes
Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 tablespoon salt plus more to taste
1 1/3 cups milk or half-and-half (or a 1:1 ratio of both)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes. Heat milk with butter in small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted; set aside. Press hot, drained potatoes through ricer into large mixing bowl. Slowly add milk/butter mixture, folding into the potatoes in quarter-cup increments.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl.

Root Vegetable Gratin

I started preparing this dish for guests about ten years ago, and now I cannot entertain in the fall or winter without a request for it. I’m happy to comply. Root Vegetable Gratin is now a selection on our ‘Thanksgiving Made Easy’ order form.

Classic Béchamel
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
6 cups whole (or 2 percent) milk, hot
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon butter, softened
1½ quarts (6 cups) béchamel *See recipe below
2 small smoked chili peppers (I use anchos or dried smoked jalapenos)
3 medium russet potatoes (about 3 pounds),  peeled and thinly sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1½ cups fresh or canned roasted red peppers, cut into strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 medium sweet potato (8 ounces), peeled and thinly sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 small or ½ large rutabaga (about 12 ounces), peeled and thinly sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds

Prepare Béchamel: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste bubbles; don’t let it brown. After 2 or 3 minutes, whisk in the hot milk. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring or whisking constantly until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat and cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Prepare Gratin: Preheat the oven to 350F°F and grease a 12- to 14-inch round baking dish or a 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking dish with the butter.

Simmer the béchamel over low heat, add the whole dried chili, and steep for about 10 minutes. Remove the chili and discard.

Peel vegetables and slice them very thinly on a mandoline to 1/8-inch thickness. Place half of the russet potato slices in a single layer on the bottom of the dish. Top with a third of the red pepper strips. Season with salt and pepper. Evenly spread 1½ cups of the béchamel on top,covering the potatoes and red pepper strips. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the cheddar. Arrange the sweet potato slices over top,slightly overlapping in a spiral pattern. Season with salt and pepper and top with another ⅓ of the red pepper strips. Again top with 1½ cups bechamel followed by 1 cup of cheddar. Add the slices of rutabaga, slightly overlapping in a spiral pattern,and strew with the remaining red peppers strips. Again, add 1½ cups bechamel followed by 1 cup of cheddar. For the final layer,arrange the remaining slices of russet potato on top,slightly overlapping in a spiral pattern. Season with salt and pepper. Put the remaining 1½ cups béchamel and 1 cup cheddar on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top of the gratin is bubbly and nicely browned, about 20 minutes. A knife inserted in the center of the gratin won’t meet any resistance, but should pierce easily into the fully cooked and soft root vegetables.

Serving suggestion: This is great to eat piping hot right out of the oven, but it’s also good reheated the next day.


* To lighten this dish, you can make a cornstarch/water slurry, stir it into chicken broth,and thicken simmering until it achieves a béchamel-like consistency.
* Omit the chili pepper and/or roasted red pepper.
* Substitute turnips for the rutabaga.

Nutrition: Roasted red pepper strips add flavor, color between the layers, and lots of vitamin C.

Economy: $$$

Note: This recipe has been adapted from the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.

Taters on the Grill

This is a quick, easy and healthier alternative to potato salad, summer’s tasty but heavier side dish. This basic recipe is simple; just potatoes, good quality olive oil and sea salt. Perfecto! If you want to spice it up, consider adding some smoked paprika, red pepper flakes or even curry or turmeric. Enjoy warm or make in advance and serve at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings

4  (about 5 ounces each) of your favorite potatoes, medium sized. (My suggestions include: German Butterball, Yukon Gold, or for starchier tastes Russet)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt to season

Wash the potatoes and prick them with a fork. Microwave until tender but still firm, 4 to 6 minutes (depending on power of oven.) Slice the potatoes in half on the bias and toss with the olive oil and sea salt. Place potato halves on pre-heated grill and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until potatoes can easily be lifted with tongs getting grill mark all sides of the potatoes.

Plate and enjoy!