True to stereotype, my mother’s side of the family - numerous, boisterous and Irish-Catholic - loves potatoes. Each Thanksgiving requires two turkeys to feed us all. That is out of necessity, but the three potato dishes we eat every year - garlic mash, sour cream mash, and a super-cheesy gratin, usually -are purely familial preference. Many of us will try a little of all three, devoting a comical amount of real estate on our plates to the beigest of foods. You could say we eat our mashed potatoes with a side of turkey.
Probably no one in my family loves a bowl of buttery, salty, creamy mashed potatoes more than I do. As a kid, I’d throw a fit if there were no leftovers, so my mom began setting aside a special portion just for me to enjoy all weekend, and I would guard it fiercely from interlopers. That practice became a long-running family joke - “Don’t even think about touching Maura’s potatoes!” - that has, I am embarrassed to admit, persisted into my 30s.
But the best mashed potatoes are worth bickering over. They’re the food equivalent of a warm blanket on a comfy couch in front of a fireplace, which, incidentally, is my other favorite part of Thanksgiving. And the best ones strike a delicate balance. They’ll stand out - but not too much.
Mashed potatoes must be versatile. They need to taste good next to every single thing piled high on that Thanksgiving plate, because they’re the glue that binds it all together. Make them too weird, like the green jalapeño mashed potato recipe I encountered, or too rich, like a hedonistic hazelnut-and-brown-butter mash I tried, and the meal will feel off-kilter. They’re a team player that can work equally well with, say, seitan loaf as with gravy, but they don’t take attention away from the star of the table.
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They also need to be decadent, because Thanksgiving is decadent. Load ‘em up with butter and cream, with garlic and cheese. More is more, says the 8-year-old me, who would wake up the day after Thanksgiving, mosey to the kitchen and eat leftover mashed potatoes for breakfast. Save your austerity for another part of the plate, like the salad.
That’s why José Andrés’s Spanish mashed potatoes will be on my family’s Thanksgiving menu this year. Imbued with roasted garlic, and mashed with olive oil, cream and Manchego cheese, they’re a more indulgent and flavorful version of the dish that many families already make. The Manchego adds interest and gives it a good texture - eat it straight out of the pot, and you might be able to pull some melty cheese strings in your bite - but it doesn’t overpower. Also, the Food & Wine write-up of the recipe says Andrés “prefers to add richness with olive oil and Manchego” instead of butter, which is a hilarious understatement about a recipe that calls for three cups of cream.
It will be a great addition to our table this year - next to all the other potatoes.
Mashed Potatoes With Manchego and Olive Oil
Cheese and oil, instead of butter, add extra richness here. Be sure to add the oil gradually, so it's evenly incorporated. Make ahead: The mashed potatoes can be refrigerated up to 3 days in advance; to reheat, cover and steam in a heatproof bowl over a pot of barely bubbling water, stirring occasionally until warmed through. Adapted from a recipe by chef José Andrés on the Food and Wine magazine website.
2 heads garlic, top third of each cut off
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish, plus more for drizzling
6 pounds baking (russet) potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
3 cups heavy cream
8 ounces young Manchego cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Chopped chives, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Drizzle the exposed garlic lightly with oil, then wrap each head in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Roast for about 1 hour, until the garlic is soft. Squeeze the cloves from the skins into a medium bowl and mash with a fork to a pastelike consistency.
Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and add a generous pinch or two of salt. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Heat the cream in a separate saucepan over medium-low heat or in the microwave until warmed through.
Drain the potatoes and return to the pot over medium-high heat. Cook for 1 minute (to evaporate excess moisture), then mash with a potato masher. Add half the heated cream, mashing until well incorporated. Add the remaining cream, stirring to incorporate, then add the cheese, stirring until it has melted.
Gradually stir in the mashed garlic and 3 tablespoons of the oil until well incorporated. Taste, and add salt as needed.
Just before serving, transfer the warmed potatoes to a bowl; top with the remaining tablespoon of oil and with chives, if desired.
Nutrition | Per serving: 510 calories, 10 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 33 g fat, 19 g saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar