Ah, oregano. The herb that is in so many spice cabinets, but no one knows what to do with it.
Some people put it in their tomato sauce for pasta, but I generally do not because I think the earthy quality of the oregano interferes with the bright tomato taste I am usually seeking. It is a vital ingredient in a lot of Greek food — think of Greek lamb or the ubiquitous marinated Greek chicken. And although it does not have a whole lot of friends, it does play very well with eggplant.
So to find ways to get the best out of oregano, I looked toward eggplant, tomatoes and Greek food.
I next looked to Greece and was rewarded with a dish called Fried Potatoes With Tomatoes and Oregano. Admittedly, it is not the most inspiring name, but the dish is spectacular. Besides, according to the cookbook “Mediterranean Harvest,” some people refer to it as Pizza Potatoes. That’s a much more satisfying name.
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The dish begins with shallow-fried potatoes, as opposed to deep-fried, which are seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano. Frankly, the potatoes are great by themselves — and totally addictive. Try not to eat them all before the tomato sauce is ready because the sauce makes the whole thing exponentially better.
This sauce is particularly easy: chopped tomatoes (canned is fine), garlic, a little bit of the leftover oil from the potatoes and oregano. You can add some crumbled feta on top if you want, but I didn’t even bother because I was so in love with the way everything tasted without it. These are flavors that are meant to go together.
For my last dish, I decided to go vegetarian — which means I went with eggplant and tomatoes. And because tomatoes go well with zucchini, and zucchini also goes well with oregano, I added a couple of them, too.
Eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini all pretty much require garlic and olive oil, so those went in as well, along with some equally necessary onion. To make it more substantial — an entree instead of a side dish — I put it all on top of pasta.
I tasted it, and it was excellent. Sublime. But also kind of familiar.
Fried Potatoes With Tomatoes And Oregano
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed, peeled if desired and cut into thin wedges
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup crumbled feta, optional
Heat the olive oil in a wide nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot and add half the potatoes. Cook, turning, until nicely browned and cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a serving dish or platter, leaving the oil in the pan. Immediately season the cooked potatoes with salt, pepper and 1 / 2 teaspoon of the oregano. Cook the remaining potatoes, season them and transfer to the serving dish.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the oil and add the garlic to the skillet. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, season with salt pepper and the remaining 1 / 2 teaspoon oregano, and cook until the tomatoes thicken and smell fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Either pour the tomato sauce directly over the potatoes or make a space in the middle of the serving dish and fill with the tomato sauce (for dipping). Sprinkle with feta if desired, and serve.
Nutrition per serving (based on 6): 156 calories; 4 g fat; 1g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4 g protein; 28 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 159 mg sodium; 33 mg calcium.
White Fish Limani En Papillote
Yield: 4 servings
4 (4-ounce) portions firm-fleshed white fish, such as tilapia or mahi mahi
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 tablespoons ( 1 / 4 cup) dry white wine
1 shallot, sliced thin
4 (4-inch) sprigs of fresh oregano or 1 / 2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lemon, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) butter
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fold 4 large pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil in half crosswise; then unfold them.
2. Place a piece of fish just to one side of the fold on each piece of parchment or foil. Pour 1 teaspoon of oil over each, season with salt and pepper and add one teaspoon wine to each one. Divide the sliced shallot over each piece, add a sprig of oregano (or 1 / 8 teaspoon dried) to each and cover with 2 slices of lemon. Top with 1 teaspoon butter.
3. Fold the parchment or foil back over the fish. Beginning with one corner on the fold, tightly crimp the edges together by folding them in little triangles. Leave room around the fish so the pouch has room to puff out. Make sure the seal is tight so that steam does not escape.
4. Place the pouches on baking sheets and cook for 12 minutes. Serve while hot and the pouch is still puffed. Allow each diner to tear into his own pouch; that is part of the fun.
Per serving: 245 calories; 12 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 75 mg cholesterol; 30 g protein; 4 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 66 mg sodium; 27 mg calcium.
Yield: 7 (1-cup) servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices, then each slice cut into 4 pieces
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Cooked rigatoni, penne or ziti pasta
In a large skillet or pot, heat oil over medium-high and add onions. Saute until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in eggplant cubes and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt; add pepper to taste. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add zucchini and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook until eggplant and zucchini are tender, about 7 minutes. Pour tomatoes and their juice into a large bowl and squeeze or crush with your hands. Stir tomatoes and oregano into pot. Lower temperature and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over cooked rigatoni, penne or ziti.
Nutrition serving (not including pasta): 90 calories; 4 g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 12 g carbohydrate; 6 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 342 mg sodium; 38 mg calcium.