Italian Roast Potatoes

Since as long as I can remember (and obviously long before my time), it had always been a tradition in my family to gather together with the extended family on a Sunday to eat lunch.  My nanna, mother and aunties would be busy in the kitchen cooking up a storm while the men would either help out when directed to, or keep out of the way of the kitchen entirely at risk of being told off.  My cousins and I would be running around playing outdoors until such time as we were asked to come in and set the table for lunch.

Lunch would always consist of the same food - spaghetti with sugo (a rich tomato sauce), roast beef, roast potatoes, salad, and my nanna's famous baked filo custard pie for dessert.  I found this routine to be comforting, and I always looked forward to Sunday lunch each week, never minding that we ate the same food, as I came to associate these dishes with my family.  When my grandfather passed away, these Sunday lunches with the extended family became few and far between, until they ceased altogether, bringing our family tradition to an end.  Now as an adult, whenever I cook these traditional family dishes I am transported straight back to my childhood, and all the wonderful memories of spending Sundays at my grandparent's house come flooding back.

These are the roast potatoes my nanna would prepare, which were my favourite part of our Sunday lunch.  I adore potatoes, and I particularly enjoy them prepared this way as they are golden and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with a hint of garlic flavour.  When I make these I always prepare extra so I can enjoy leftovers the next day.  I like to eat them for breakfast, fried in a pan with a little butter then I pour over a couple of beaten eggs with grated parmesan cheese.  Delicious!

1kg large white potatoes (Sebago or Coliban are perfect for roasting)
1 whole head of garlic
3 long sprigs fresh rosemary
3 dried bay leaves
Bunch of dried Greek oregano, or 2 tablespoons of dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sea salt flakes, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat a fan-forced oven to 200C.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks and place into a large ceramic baking dish in a single layer if possible.  I find the best way to cut potatoes is to halve them lengthways, then place each half on their cut side and slice them again lengthways, so you essentially have 4 thick wedges.  Then cut each wedge into thirds.  Try and keep them the same size where possible so they cook evenly.

Remove each of the cloves from the head of garlic and trim the hard ends off.  Using a solid based cup (or a meat mallet or rolling pin would also do), smash each clove, remove the papery outer layer and discard, then place each smashed clove into the baking dish together with the potatoes.

Cut each long sprig of rosemary in half and place into the baking dish, together with the dried bay leaves.  If you are using a bunch of dried Greek oregano, gently crush the bunch several times over the potatoes using your hand, otherwise sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of dried oregano.

Grind black pepper and sprinkle over sea salt flakes to taste.  Remember to be a little generous with the salt as potatoes need them.

Drizzle a good lug of extra virgin olive oil over the potatoes, then toss all ingredients together by hand to ensure the potatoes are well coated and the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Place the dish into the oven and cook for approximately 1 hour, taking care to keep an eye on them after 40 minutes, until they are golden and crispy on the outside.  I like to take them out of the oven after 40 minutes and gently toss them using a spatula (taking care not to break them apart) then I pop them back in the oven to roast for a further 20 minutes.  I do this to ensure each potato colours evenly and crisps up nicely.

Serve immediately.  These potatoes are the perfect accompaniment to a roast dish, or a slow-cooked casserole.  In my family we serve these alongside spaghetti with sugo, and a salad.

The potatoes will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, and are extra delicious the next day served either hot or cold.


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