Potato perfection: Just try to top this

April 09, 2000|By Annette Gooch | Annette Gooch,Universal Press Syndicate

What could be nicer than a perfectly baked potato? Mounds of fluffy potato flesh, white or pale yellow, bursting from a snug brown jacket, topped with nonfat yogurt with chives, salsa and sour cream, pesto, poached eggs with Hollandaise.

Actually, twice-baked potatoes can be doubly good. Instead of the cheese and vegetables in this recipe, you could make a hollow in the center of each potato for a poached egg or for bits of ham, smoked salmon or sausage, then add Hollandaise or a gratin topping. Stuffed potatoes can easily be prepared ahead, in stages, then baked again to heat them through.

For crisp skins (essential for twice-baked potatoes), leave the skins unoiled or dip the potatoes into heavily salted water. To prevent the build-up of steam that can make baked potatoes soggy or, worse, cause them to explode in the oven or microwave, pierce each one in several places with a fork or metal skewer. Do this once just before baking and again immediately after. And if you're after a dry, fluffy texture, never wrap potatoes in foil.

Bake the potatoes until their centers can easily be penetrated by a fork (about 50 minutes in a conventional oven). Then serve them while they're still almost too hot to handle, so that the residual heat can warm whatever toppings you add.

Microwave potatoes at 100 percent power, allowing 4 to 6 minutes for a single 6- to 8-ounce potato, 6 to 8 minutes for two potatoes, 8 to 12 minutes for four. Then touch the potatoes to test them: If they feel hard, microwave them 1 or 2 minutes more. Allow them to stand for 5 minutes to complete the cooking.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Serves 6

3 large freshly baked potatoes

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 tablespoons milk or stock

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup coarsely chopped, blanched broccoli florets or asparagus tips (optional)

Slice each baked potato in half lengthwise. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the centers, leaving a shell about 1/4 -inch thick. Place shells in a shallow baking pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine scooped-out potato, butter, salt and pepper; add milk. Using an electric mixer, beat mixture until fluffy. Stir in chives and , cup of the cheese and chopped broccoli or asparagus, if using.

Mound potato mixture into shells; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until potatoes are heated through (15 to 20 minutes). Serve very hot.

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