Marguerite Littman has been called “the Belle of Chester Square.” She hails from Monroe, Louisiana, and when she speaks, quite honestly it sounds as if she never left there, although she has spent most of her life in England. After a stint in Hollywood (where, among other things, she coached Elizabeth Taylor, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, on how to “speak Southern,” a technique Marguerite and Tennessee Williams developed as follows: “You hit the verbs, slur the nouns, and go up—as an ascending scale would do—at the end of the sentence!”), Marguerite, a stylish, magical character, emerged as the wife of one of the most revered London barristers, confidante to Diana, Princess of Wales, and Elton John alike, and one of London’s great hostesses. Let’s not forget her philanthropy: She started the AIDS Crisis Trust in England, which has now folded into The Elton John Aids Foundation. With the help of Victor and Carmen, Marguerite serves the most delicious, simple, chic, and often Southern food, and is renowned in discriminating circles for her wit, charm, kindness, wisdom, and a term she taught me, her “zigzag.”
YIELD: 6 to 8 servings
2½ pounds russet potatoes
½ cup milk
6 tablespoons salted butter, melted
2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons sour cream
3 tablespoons chopped chives
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, firmly packed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for the skins
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more for the skins
¼ cup grated Cheddar cheese, firmly packed
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
On a baking sheet, bake the potatoes for 1½ hours, until they are soft to the touch. Remove them from the oven and let them cool
When they are cool, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides of the potatoes, leaving about ¼ inch of potato on the skin. Place the scooped potato in a medium mixing bowl.
To the scooped-out potatoes, add the milk, melted butter, sour cream, chives, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher.
Season the potato skins with salt and pepper to taste, and then refill the skins with the mashed potatoes. If you feel creative, use a pastry bag. Garnish the potatoes with the grated Cheddar and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes.
Turn the oven to broil and place the potatoes on the highest rack of the oven. Broil them until they are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, and serve.