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Savory spuds: Homegrown potatoes and fresh thyme combine in rustic side dish

Garlic is smashed under a broad-blade knife using hand pressure. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 3
Fresh potatoes and thyme from the garden go into making Potatoes Balsamico.Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 3
Homemade Roasted Herb Red Potatoes with Salt and Pepper3 / 3

When our 12-year-old son, Gio, suggested last spring that we should plant potatoes in our garden, I thought he was crazy. Undeterred by my skepticism, Gio hopped online and quickly discovered that all we had to do was to plant something called a seed potato, just below the surface of the soil, and the rest would take care of itself.

A seed potato has the knobby appearance of a potato long past its prime, with a bounty of alien-looking eyes protruding from its skin. After seeing one for the first time, I became even more convinced that this mission exceeded our agricultural intelligence.

Fortunately, to Gio's delight, our potato plants flourished with little to no maintenance, and last week we harvested a lovely crop of Yukon Gold and Baby Red potatoes. I can't stop marveling that they were grown right here in our own little corner of the Red River Valley.

With such a bounty, we're enjoying our homegrown potatoes in a variety of dishes, including this week's Potatoes Balsamico, a rustic alternative to traditional roasted or mashed potatoes. This a simple and delicious Italian side dish, featuring cut potatoes and fresh thyme, baked in a balsamic glaze until soft and succulent.

The key to this recipe is to parboil the potatoes before baking them, which enhances their texture and reduces their overall baking time. Once the potatoes have been drained and cooled slightly, they are cut into halves or quarters, so that all the pieces are consistent in size.

Balsamic vinegar is a main flavor component of this dish, and this sweet, dark liquid adds tang and zest to the potatoes. But don't use your best bottle for this recipe — any regular balsamic vinegar will suffice. The potatoes are baked in an eight or nine-inch square baking dish, along with the vinegar, chicken broth, several sprigs of fresh thyme and a fair amount of smashed garlic.

Smashing (versus mincing) the garlic allows it to cook steadily in a high-temperature oven, thus tempering its pungent flavor, creating a rich and mellow tone instead. To smash a clove of garlic, remove its peel and cut off the root end, then place a large knife over the garlic clove and press down firmly with the palm of your hand, several times, until the clove is completely flattened.

As the potatoes cook, you'll have time to get the rest of your dinner prep completed, making Potatoes Balsamico a perfect weeknight side dish.

Especially when made with potatoes grown in the Red River Valley.

Potatoes Balsamico

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds new potatoes, skin on

1 10.5-ounce can low-sodium chicken broth

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

6 garlic cloves, smashed

5 sprigs thyme

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Fill a large pot halfway with water. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium or medium low and simmer until potatoes are al dente, or nearly fork-tender. To test, insert a fork into a potato — there should still be a bit of resistance as it slides through.

Drain the potatoes and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, cut the potatoes into halves or quarters so that each piece is consistent in size.

Transfer potatoes to an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish, and add the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, garlic and thyme. To season, stir in 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper; taste and adjust as desired.

Place the dish in the center rack of the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, tossing once, until potatoes are tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency. Serve immediately.

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