Tuesday 26 May 2009

Resurrection Potato and Pasta Bake

Every now and again, I use up leftovers and find the resurrection dish better than the original. I am in search of a perfect creamy potato bake and was taken with a spiced one. It really was not that great on the first night but the spices seemed to mingle nicely overnight and so I ended up with an interesting creamy pasta bake with potatoes, mushrooms, lentils and spinach as well as notes of cloves and nutmeg. An unexpected delight!

I will never forget doing one of these potato bakes – you know the one when you thinly slice the vegetables and bake them in milk or cream – when I had just moved into my first share house. It took hours and we were starving by the time it was edible. I kept taking it out of the oven and poking a knife into it quite regularly, willing it to feel soft and yielding. But it seemed to constantly have that unwelcome crunch that needed returning to the oven.

As I have been thinking about this potato bake, I thought I would share some ideas. One from my mum was to cook the potatoes briefly in the microwave before slicing. She also suggested heating the milk first and adding onion. Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella has an interesting potato and zucchini bake in which the potatoes are simmered in the milk first and then baked. She also used a large shallow roasting dish for lots of crispy topping. I also liked a similar recipe in The Age newspaper on the weekend that had grated cheese sprinkled between layers of potatoes.

The potato bake that I made tasted just like milky potatoes the first night. Perhaps it was extra milky because I had a few less potatoes than the recipe called for. But after I served it I left the remains in the oven another hour and then turned off the oven and left the dish to cool. So the next day the spices were more prominent and the milk had turned beige and creamy. But it was too rich to eat alone so I concocted a pasta bake.

I was most impressed with my pasta bake. I was going to mix all the ingredients together but was not sure any of my mixing bowls were large enough so I had layers. I loved the indulgent creamy pasta and potato with a layer of healthy vegetables and lentils, all topped with crispy cheese, breadcrumbs and seeds. I served it with tomato sauce.

I have had a stab at a recipe below but I do not advise you cook potatoes in milk for hours just to make the pasta bake unless you have oodles of time. However, if you do have some leftover creamy potatoes, I highly recommend you use them in this way. In fact, the thought of making this pasta bake again makes the search for the perfect potato bake all the more attractive.

I am sending this pasta dish to Sara of I'm a Food Blog who is hosting this week's Presto Pasta Night (#115), an event founded by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast.

Potato Gratin with nutmeg and cloves
(adapted from BBC Australian Good Food Magazine March 2009)
serves 8

1 onion, peeled
5 cloves
4 cups (1 litre) milk
3 bay leaves
1 garlic clove
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp sea salt
1500g waxy potatoes, such as desiree or Nicola (I used 1200g)
10g butter
extra nutmeg for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 200 C.

Heat onion, cloves, milk, bay leaves, whole garlic, nutmeg and sea salt in a medium saucepan til almost boiling. Remove from heat and set aside. (I pressed cloves into onion so they would be easy to remove without sieving.)

Peel and prick potatoes. Place each potato in the microwave on high for 1 minute (or 1.5 minutes if large). Cool slightly and slice to 1mm thick. (I wish I had a mandolin for this but don’t and so probably didn’t get exactly the right thinness.)

Grease a baking dish with the butter. Remove and discard onion, cloves, garlic and bay leaves from milk. Arrange potato slices in dish and then pour milk over them. I used a dish about 23cm square but I think I would use my large roasting dish in future.

Cover tightly and bake in oven for about 40 minutes. Then uncover and bake a further 20 minutes or until lightly browned and a knife poked in the centre finds the potatoes tender. (I just put the lid on my baking dish but the recipe suggests covering with baking paper and then foil. I also didn’t see the bit about taking the lid off for the last bit – oops!)

Potato and pasta bake
Serves 4-6

⅔ of above potato gratin
300g dried pasta
1-2 handfuls of grated cheese
1 tsp oil
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g mushrooms, chopped
150g baby spinach, chopped
1 x 400g tin of brown lentils, rinsed and drained
½ tsp balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp smoked paprika
pinch cayenne
2 handfuls of grated cheese
50g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds

Cook pasta according to instructions on packet. When cooked, mix with potato gratin and 1-2 handfuls of grated cheese.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large frypan. Fry onion for about 5 minutes or until starting to soften. Add garlic and mushrooms and fry until mushrooms soften – about 5-10 minutes. Add spinach and stir briefly until it starts to wilt. Remove from heat and add lentils, balsamic vinegar, smoked paprika and cayenne.

Grease a large baking dish (I used my roasting dish) and place a layer of the potato and pasta mixture and a layer of the mushroom spinach mixture. Sprinkle with 2 handfuls of grated cheese, breadcrumbs and seeds.

Bake in 220 C oven for about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and crispy.

On the stereo:
The good, the bad and the queen – self titled


  1. Mmmm that looks perfect for the colder weather we're having!

    I seem to have the same problem with potato bakes and the crunchy-ness factor :( I find if I slice them with my mandoline slicer on the thinnest setting and then use a baking tray like you said, rather than a casserole dish that they cook faster.

  2. Thanks Vegetation - I think I need to get a mandolin to conquer the potato bake - because they are great in winter

  3. That potato and pasta bake certainly sounds delicious. Great use of leftover potatoes. Once again, I am amazed at how much good food you manage to make and post about.

  4. Mmmm love the sound of the potato pasta bake! And I had to laugh when I read about when you made a potato bake and were checking it frequently and were starving when it was ready. I've done that sort of thing more than once! Once was with a potato/sweet potato gratin that I was taking to a potluck and it still wasn't done when we left, but we were already late. Thankfully it finished cooking/softening up on the way! I look forward to seeing your future potato bakes!

  5. Wow - this looks like three meals in one! I like the sound of the vegetable-lentil layer the most but it sounds like a magnificently hearty winter dish all together.

  6. Oh I love the sound of this bake. Always looking out for some yum vegetarian recipes & this looks creamy & delicious. Loved reading your post....

  7. Oh, yes, a mandoline will make light work of all that chop-age. Fabulous 'resurrection'...I've made ne of those bakes that takes years to cook and it took years to convince me to try again!

  8. The ultimate comfort food! :) Great idea studding the onion-nothing worse than chasing around little cloves. it's like finding a needle in a haystack! :)

  9. What a great way to use up leftovers! I don't think I have ever combined pasta and potatoes, though I have had potato gnocchi, so I guess it makes sense. Great dish!

  10. Thanks Lisa - I find I have more time to cook at the moment but it is hard to find the time to post it all - lots more to come as soon as I get time to write it up

    Thanks Ashley - That sounds very stressful doing one of these bakes to take to a potluck - I could imagine arriving with it after everyone has left because mine often take so long

    Thanks Lysy - yes I loved the veg lentil layer - without that it would have been too stodgy

    Thanks Deeba - I am always looking out for interesting pasta bakes - and will try this sort again if I get the chance - glad you enjoyed it too

    Thanks Lucy - I don't make these very often for the same reason - they usually disappoint but in the cookbooks they look so wonderful

    Thanks Lorraine - I will do anything to avoid having to strain through a sieve!

    Thanks Sara, potato and pasta do give a double whammy of comfort

  11. I've made potato bakes before but would never think to add it to a pasta bake. . .I must admit, the pasta sounds much more appealing to me.

  12. Thanks Ricki - I liked the pasta bake better than the potato bake - I don't think I eat the sort of meals that potato bake goes with - I just couldn't think of what to serve the leftover potato bake with til I thought of pasta

  13. What a great idea. It looks yummy!


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