Esperanza Constellano apologized for the January weather when she picked me up from the Miami airport to take me to the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, where I was teaching. “It’s usually not this cold,” she said in her soft voice. Her South American roots, evident to me from previous encounters, led me to quiz her about her family’s love affair with potatoes. We talked about a Peruvian favorite she made once a week for her husband. Locro de papas—the words rolled off her tongue as she described its simplicity and creaminess. This version, her steadfast, incorporates ground annatto seeds to perfume the soup with a musky aroma and splash the potatoes with a sunny disposition. I found it luscious.
1 1/2 pounds assorted fingerling potatoes (I used red and yellow)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-size yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, stem and ribs discarded, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
1 teaspoon ground annatto seeds
1 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, diced
2 cups whole milk
1. Fill a medium-size bowl with cold water. Wash the potatoes well under cold running water. Cut them in half and submerge them in the bowl of water to prevent them from discoloring.
2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Stir-fry the medley until the onion is light brown around the edges and the garlic and pepper have softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
3. Stir in the cumin, annatto, salt, peppercorns, and cayenne. The heat of the pan’s contents is just right to cook the spices without burning them, about 15 seconds.
4. Drain the potatoes in a colander and add them to the pan along with the cream cheese and milk. Return the pan to medium-high heat. As the milk comes to a boil, the cream cheese will start to melt. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork or knife, about 15 minutes.
5. Transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender jar and puree it until smooth, creamy, and a beautiful shade of yellow, scraping the inside of the jar as needed. You can also puree it in the pan with an immersion blender.
6. Serve the soup warm in individual bowls, topping it with the queso, avocado, scallions, and cilantro.
Reprinted with permssion from Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked -- and Fried, Too! by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing Company, 2016)
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