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 / Updated  / Source: TODAY
By Lauren Salkeld

It’s hard to imagine a simpler, more satisfying side dish than a classic baked potato, but there’s no reason that spuds should be limited to a supporting role at dinner. By adding a few ingredients and doing just a little extra prep, you can turn a standard baked potato into a filling and fortifying feast. Best of all, potatoes are incredibly versatile and marry well with a variety of different flavor profiles from Mexican to Indian to Italian.

Pizza baked potato
Pizza baked potatoLauren Salkeld

These seven ideas make it easy to push baked potatoes to the center of the plate. Each recipe makes enough topping for four potatoes. Use russet (baking) potatoes and keep in mind that larger potatoes make for a more substantial meal. To get started, scrub the potatoes, then use a fork to pierce them in several places. Bake the potatoes on a baking sheet in a 400 degree F oven until the skin is crispy and the flesh is tender, about an hour.

If you prefer, you can also “bake” potatoes in the microwave: Scrub the potatoes and pierce them with a fork in several places, then place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for five minutes. Flip the potatoes and microwave for another three to five minutes. If they’re not soft enough, continue microwaving, one minute at a time, until ready.

1. Pepperoni pizza (pictured above): Once the potatoes are ready, let cool for 1-2 minutes, then cut in half lengthwise. Use a fork to fluff the potato flesh, then season with salt and pepper and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of marinara sauce on each potato, then top with about 3 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella and 4 thin slices of pepperoni. Bake on a foil-lined baking sheet, in a 400 degree F oven, until the cheese is melted and the pepperoni is crisp, 15-20 minutes.

Baked potato with broccoli and cheddar
Baked potato with broccoli and cheddarLauren Salkeld

2. Broccoli cheddar: About 30 minutes before the potatoes will be ready, start making your topping. In a baking dish, toss 4 cups of small broccoli florets with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree F oven — the same temperature as for the baked potatoes — until starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Once the potatoes are ready, let cool for 1-2 minutes, then cut in half lengthwise. Use a fork to fluff the potato flesh, then season with salt and pepper and top with a small pat of butter. Divide the broccoli among the potatoes and top each with about 3 tablespoons of grated cheddar or other cheese. Bake on a foil-lined baking sheet, in a 400 degree F oven, until the cheese is melted, 5-10 minutes.

Baked potato with white beans and garlicky greens
Baked potato with white beans and garlicky greensLauren Salkeld

3. White beans and garlicky greens: About 20 minutes before the potatoes will be ready, start making your topping. In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute 2 minced garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 1 minute. Add 1 (15.5-ounce) can of drained and rinsed white beans and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add 6 cups of stemmed and chopped Swiss chard, along with 1/4 cup of water, and stir to combine. Cover the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the Swiss chard is wilted, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Once the potatoes are ready, let cool for 1-2 minutes then cut in half lengthwise. Use a fork to fluff the potato flesh, then season with salt and pepper and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Divide the Swiss chard and beans among the potatoes.

Baked potato with chili
Baked potato with chiliLauren Salkeld

4. Chili: About 15 minutes before the potatoes will be ready, start making your topping. On the stove or in the microwave, heat 1 (14.7-ounce) can or 2 cups homemade meat or vegetarian chili. Assemble your favorite chili toppings, such as chopped scallions, grated cheese, sour cream and salsa. Once the potatoes are ready, let cool for 1-2 minutes, then cut in half lengthwise. Use a fork to fluff the potato flesh, and then season with salt and pepper. Divide the hot chili among the potatoes and serve with the toppings alongside.

Baked potato with vegetables, feta and olives
Baked potato with vegetables, feta and olivesLauren Salkeld

5. Veggies, feta and olives: About 25 minutes before the potatoes will be ready, start making your topping: In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute 1 thinly sliced small red onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 3 minutes. Add 1 minced garlic clove and saute for 1 minute. Add 1 large sliced red bell pepper and 1 medium sliced zucchini and saute until softened and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Once the potatoes are ready, let cool for 1-2 minutes then cut in half lengthwise. Use a fork to fluff the potato flesh, then season with salt and pepper and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Divide the vegetable mixture among the potatoes and sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons each of crumbled feta and pitted and chopped black olives.

Lauren Salkeld

6. Chana masala (chickpea curry): About 20 minutes before the potatoes will be ready, start making your topping. In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute 1 chopped small onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 3 minutes. Add 1 minced garlic clove and saute for 1 minute. Add 1 can of rinsed and drained chickpeas, 1 diced tomato, 1/4 cup of water, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and continue simmering for 10 minutes; season with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice. Once the potatoes are ready, let cool for 1-2 minutes then cut in half lengthwise. Use a folk to fluff the potato flesh, and then season with salt and pepper. Divide the chana masala among the potatoes and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

7. Carbonara with peas: About 20 minutes before the potatoes will be ready, start making your topping. Cook 4 strips of bacon until crispy, then let cool and crumble. Cook 1 cup of frozen peas in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and run under ice cold water. Poach 4 eggs. Once the potatoes are ready, let cool for 1-2 minutes then cut in half lengthwise. Use a folk to fluff the potato flesh, then season with salt and pepper and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Divide the peas and bacon among the potatoes. Top with a poached egg, sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan and season generously with pepper.