Ina Garten Ditches The Sour Cream For Her Iconic Baked Potatoes

Since baked potatoes take an hour in the oven, they are often prepared when the weather is cool, and you don't mind the range warming up the kitchen. However, since the versatile spud is so hands-off, it's the ideal complement to grilled meat at the next outdoor cookout since you don't have to babysit the dish and can focus on entertaining.

Perfectly baked potatoes can be a hearty side dish or an entree when loaded with proteins like beef chili or crispy bacon bits and veggies. Often overlooked, how you bake the potato is as essential as the toppings, providing contrasting texture to the creamy insides. The entire baked potato — fluffy flesh and crispy skin — can be enjoyed if prepared properly, and once you master the technique, you can top them with anything. 

In Ina Garten's cookbook, "Make It Ahead," the Barefoot Contessa updates the traditional steakhouse side and swaps the usual sour cream and chives for tangy feta, cream cheese, and fresh herbs in her recipe for Crusty Baked Potato with Whipped Feta Cheese. The result is a modern take on a classic that's surprisingly fresher and brighter than you'd expect. 

Baked potatoes with whipped feta cheese

All potatoes can be baked, but you need a low moisture, high starch variety like Russet or Idaho to get a fluffy center and thick, crispy skin. Although delicious, save the waxier, thin-skinned Yukon Gold and red potatoes for roasting. 

Since potatoes are grown in dirt, and we want to eat the skin (not peel it), they must be washed and scrubbed with a brush to clean properly. Remove any eyes or green spots with a knife. Thoroughly dry the potatoes and pierce them with the tines of a fork or paring knife (yes, it really can explode in the oven if not given vents for steam). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit while you prep the potatoes.

Contrary to what grandma may have taught you, we should not wrap baked potatoes in aluminum foil to cook. The foil traps in the steam and makes the skin soggy. Instead, coat the dry potatoes with olive oil and season the outside with minced rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, freshly ground black pepper, and sea salt (Garten uses fleur de sel). 

How to properly bake a potato

Bake the potatoes on a foil-lined sheet pan until tender, 60-70 minutes, depending on their size. If baking multiple potatoes, space them evenly so they cook at the same rate and don't steam. To check if they are done, pierce the skin with a paring knife or give them a squeeze. If the knife slides in easily, it's done. 

Alternatively, you can bake the potatoes directly on the oven rack with a sheet pan on the rack below to catch any drippings. You may be tempted to save some time and microwave the spud, but the microwave steams the potato, leaving you with soggy skin. You need dry heat to evenly bake the potato and deliver crispy skin. 

When cooked, slit the top of the baked potato in an "X" pattern and squeeze the sides to loosen the flesh, making room for the topping. Place a dollop of the whipped feta on each potato and garnish with snipped chives. If you have any of the spread left over, the whipped feta topping would be delicious as an appetizer smeared on crostini.