Potatoes are another discovery of the New World: 16th century Spaniards brought potatoes from South America to wider fame. Potatoes are the staple of the world because they provide more energy and protein per acre than any other crop. They have more vitamin C than an orange and are a good source of B6, niacin, iodine, folic acid, copper and magnesium. Potatoes class in the deadly nightshade family and, in fact, the potato tuber itself is the only part of the plant safe to eat. They also are incredibly versatile and can be prepared multiple ways for great dining. Homegrown potatoes taste better than any you buy in the store; they are crisp, fresh and tasty when hyperlocal, hyperfresh.
There are two times to pick your potatoes:
- If you want new potatoes, then dig up the tubers when the plant is green and first flowers. (Too late in the season now.) New potatoes are small, immature and their skins are thin and fragile. They have dense, moist flesh that tastes fresh. Usually, new potatoes are boiled or steamed to preserve their delicate flesh and flavor.
- Old or maincrop potatoes are harvested when the plant begins to wither and die back: before frost. The tubers are much larger, the flesh drier and skin thicker than new potatoes. Most potatoes are “old”. Waxy potatoes have a dense flesh , low in starch, and are best boiled or steamed in salads, stews and soups. Floury potatoes are dry, are high in starch but low in sugar, and are best baked, mashed or fried. Of course, all potatoes can be eaten all ways.
Now is the time for full-grown potatoes to be dug up. Once the plant dies back, the potatoes can stay or store in the ground for several weeks — as long as the days aren’t too warm or wet. However, harvest your potatoes before frost. It’s best to dig on an overcast day because potatoes will turn green if exposed to light. (Any green on a potato, discolored from a toxin called solanine, should be cut away. And any sprouts too.) Dig with a garden fork or carefully with a trowel down to the deep roots of the plant. There will be potatoes of all sizes, large and baby, some still clinging to the roots. Gently rub the potatoes to remove the root structure and loose dirty. If you accidentally nick a potato, it’s still fine to eat but it won’t store. Collect the harvested potatoes in a bag or bin so they are covered from sunlight while you’re digging. Potatoes will store unwashed in a cool, dark, dry place for up to ten weeks. While storing, the sugars will convert to starch, changing the flavors of your newly dug potatoes. Obviously, before use, wash potatoes well to remove all the dirt. Newly harvested potatoes never last long enough to store at my home!
This year I grew Yukon Golds (yellow potato), French Fingerlings (red skin, white flesh), Purple Peruvians (blue) and Cranberry (red skin, red flesh) varieties. Good year for Yukon Golds and Cranberries but wasn’t impressed with the few, small fingerlings and blue potatoes this year. Not sure yet why I wasn’t successful with all varieties.
Inevitably when harvesting potatoes, you have many tiny potatoes along with the large ones. The Moro East cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark has a delicious recipe that makes good use of these small ones: cracked baby potatoes. Simply, wash well and dry. Using a metal cup or meat mallet, crack the tiny potatoes so they split without pulverizing or breaking them apart. Rub in good olive oil and salt. Fry until tender. I also discovered that the cracked, baby potatoes are good in the pot with meat.
We also fried the Yukons which were delicious. And roasted them too. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the potatoes into wedges, place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and whatever spices your like such as cayenne, paprika or cumin. Bake for 35-45 minutes until crispy and golden. Since the roasted potatoes are sort of like thick chips, serve with a dip. I usually make a yogurt or tahini style dip.
Obviously, potatoes make great salad whether potato salad or nicoise. Here is another recipe adapted from Moro East for a very lively version of a family favorite.
Moroccan spiced potato salad
2.5 lbs of small to medium potatoes
2 garden onion
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons Harissa or hot sauce
4 tablespooons olive oil
1. Put the potatoes in a pan and cover with cold water. Add a large pinch of salt. Boil until tender in the middle. Drain and let cool.
2. While potatoes are boiling, make the dressing. Crush the garlic, salt, cumin and caraway into a paste in a mortar and pestle. Stir in lemon juice, harissa and olive oil. Season to taste. Set aside.
3. Peel the warm potatoes. Slice into rounds 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick. Toss with onion, coriander and spicy dressing. Adjust seasonings.
What’s your favorite potato recipe?