Like cooks across northern Italy, Rolando Beramendi knows that to make better skillet potatoes—or cauliflower or green beans, for that matter—it helps to treat them more like rice.
He uses a technique that involves cooking with small amounts of flavorful liquid at a time, adding more only after the last addition has cooked down. As the liquid reduces, he explains, its flavor concentrates. This is a common way to make risotto.
But rice is just the start, says Beramendi, a Florence native and author of the cookbook “Autentico.” Italian cooks use the same approach with a variety of vegetables—part of the Italian tradition of cooking “in umido” (which roughly translates to “stewed”). And we particularly like the way he uses it in his recipe for patate in umido, or braised potatoes.
Beramendi starts by cooking onions in a Dutch oven until soft, then adds grated tomato and cooks them down to concentrate their flavor. He then adds peeled and cubed russet potatoes along with broth, bringing it all to a simmer.
Once the liquid is absorbed—a process that, as with rice for risotto, draws starch out of the potatoes, further thickening the sauce—he adds more broth a bit at a time until the potatoes are tender. The result is a rich, flavorful tomato sauce that coats and clings to the potatoes, but thanks to the slower cooking also permeates the potato chunks with flavor.
At Milk Street, we loved how the technique so thoroughly seasoned the potatoes, but we made a few adjustments to amplify the flavor. After testing several potato varieties, we stuck with russets. They absorbed the most flavor and their high starch content produced the creamiest sauce.
We began by browning onions and garlic in olive oil, then added cubed potatoes. Once their starch began to brown on the bottom of the pot, creating a fond that builds flavor, we added chicken broth, rosemary, crushed red pepper and crushed canned tomatoes—a bit more than Beramendi did to create a saucier finished dish.
After cooking for 10 minutes while gently stirring—taking care to scrape some of the browned bits from the bottom of the pot without being so rough as to break up the potatoes—we added broth two more times. Once the liquid was nearly absorbed, we removed the pot from the heat and covered it for 5 minutes, allowing the potatoes to finish cooking in the gentle residual heat.
A sprinkle of chopped fresh basil finished our patate in umido, building on the base Beramendi had laid, with an herbal and creamy tomato sauce, a hint of spice from the red pepper, and tender potatoes seasoned throughout.