Gems in the Rough: Heirloom Potatoes & Delightfully Crispy Faux French Frites {Plus Tips for Root Cellaring Your Spuds}

October 13th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Crispy Faux Frites

I confess a weakness for frites. Real frites, mind you, not the soggy, pale-yellow excuse for French fries found in fast food restaurants. I’m talking about genuine, golden-brown, warm, crispy, sea-salty, flavorful French frites. The last time I had really great French fried potatoes I was in San Francisco of all places, in a little bistro run by a real Frenchman. I ordered two helpings. Yes, of course I know that fried foods aren’t good for me, but every once in awhile I crave a little naughty luxury … Doesn’t everyone?

Well imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Patricia Wells’ recipe for Fake Frites while flipping through her wonderful cookbook, At Home in Provence. Ordinarily I wouldn’t trust a recipe for fake anything; especially fake French anything. But here I find the Patricia Wells — Patricia Wells! — advising a method for no-fry French frites. Of course, I had to give it a try …

Potatoes Fresh From the Earth (Left to Right: Adirondack Red, Bintje, Peruvian Purple, Rose Gold, Yukon Gold, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling and La Ratte French Fingerling)

Although the instructions are simple as usual, Wells is very particular about both method and ingredients in order to achieve gourmet results. According to Wells, steaming is key to the faux-fried, crispiness of the frites, as it creates a starchy, textural coating on the surface of the potato. While it’s true that Idaho russets can be used here, for making the most flavorful fake frites, Wells’ top potato choices are Charlotte, La Ratte (fingerlings) or Bintje. And lucky me, I just happen to have a bumper crop of gourmet and heirloom potatoes this year; jewel like spuds in every imaginable flavor and texture. Given their petite shape and size —similar to fries even before cutting— I decided to try the La Ratte fingerlings first …

La Ratte Fingerlings: Freshly Washed, Roughly Peeled and Coarse-Cut for Faux Frites (Also On My Countertop: Peruvian Purple, Yukon Gold, Rose Gold, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling, and Ozette Fingerling Potatoes in Colander)

Look Like the Real Thing, Now Don’t They?

Crispy and Delicous as Traditional French Fries, But Much Healthier: Faux Frites

Faux French Frites

(Based on Patricia Wells’ recipe from her cookbook, At Home in Provence)

Ingredients:

2 lbs baking potatoes. Charlotte, La Ratte, Bintje or Idaho Russet

2-3  Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Fine Sea Salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500° F (260° C)

The original recipe suggests peeling and cutting the potatoes into thick fries, approximately 3/4″ thick and 3″ long. This is easy with fingerling potatoes like La Rattes. However, I decided to coarsely peel about half of the potatoes, leaving some of the skin on for a rustic texture and flavor. You can make them either way.

Steam the prepared potatoes (covered) over simmering water for approximately 10-12 minutes. It’s very important that you steam, not boil, in order to create a starchy texture on the surface of the potatoes. Be careful not to overcook. Test the potatoes with a knife and remove from heat as soon a sharp blade can puncture the flesh and pull away easily.

Place the steamed potatoes in a large bowl and gently toss while drizzling with the extra virgin olive oil.

Using a slotted spoon, arrange the potatoes  in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet. Be sure to spread them well, so they bake evenly.

Bake at 500 degrees fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes, turning the potatoes (a wooden spatula works well) every 5 minutes or so to insure even browning. Remove when the potatoes are dark gold with brown edges, and very crispy.

Season to taste with sea salt while turning on the hot pan and serve immediately; solo or with your favorite burger or other french-fry-friendly meal.

Harvesting Gourmet and Heirloom Potato Varieties from My Potager

Tips for Harvesting and Storing Homegrown Potatoes

There’s nothing quite like the flavor and texture of freshly-harvested, homegrown potatoes. Once you taste the first, new potatoes —pulled straight from the earth and steamed or boiled in your kitchen— you’ll never be satisfied with grocery store-bought spuds again. Potatoes are a relatively simple crop to grow (click back to this previous post for favorite online places to order potatoes). I plant my potatoes in early spring, about two weeks before the last frost —or as soon as the soil is dry and ready to be worked— using the simple, old-fashioned hilling method with clean straw mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. I begin harvesting new potatoes from a few plants as soon as they begin to bloom; usually late spring or early summer (click here for a post on harvesting new potatoes and a frittata recipe) From then on —growing a wide variety with a range of maturity dates— I enjoy freshly dug potatoes straight through the frost.

About two weeks after the potato plants senesce —the point at which the top growth naturally withers and dies back to the ground— the main crop is ready  to harvest. It is then that I begin to carefully dig —pushing down into the earth well beyond the hill and gently lifting in an upward motion toward the hill— with a garden fork or shovel. If I am harvesting potatoes to cook immediately, or over the next few days, then I simply brush off the dirt and wash them. If I am harvesting for long term storage, I dig on a clear, sunny morning and toss the potatoes up onto the topsoil, allowing them to dry out a bit as I work. I then backtrack and carefully go over the potatoes; brushing off the earth while sorting and selecting damage-free tubers for root cellaring. Storage potatoes are placed in wood crates or harvest baskets and loosely covered with cardboard; then taken to a well-ventilated, dry room for a few days to “cure” (room temp of 55-65 degrees is good). The crates are then placed on shelves in a dark, dry root cellar for long term keeping. Green potatoes, and any with insect damage, are tossed aside or sent to compost. Any tubers I’ve accidentally nicked or cut during harvest are placed in a basket to use right away. Never wash potatoes intended for long-term storage, simply brush off the excess dirt while curing.

Some potatoes store better than others, with many of the later-maturing varieties keeping for up to six months when cellared between 35-40° F. Always store potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place to prevent greening (green indicates the presence of solanine, which is a toxin). The stairs of a cellar bulkhead, a non-freezing woodshed or other outbuildings can sometimes provide good alternative space for storing vegetables if you don’t have a root cellar. But remember never to store fruits and vegetables in garages or any place where fuels, or equipment containing fuels or chemicals, are kept. Avoid storing apples near potatoes. In general, the later a potato variety matures, the better it will store. Some less-common potatoes with excellent long-term storage value include Bintje, All-Blue, Ozette, Charlotte.

La Ratte and Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings are Good Medium-Long Term Keepers. Remember, Do Not Wash Storage Potatoes Until You Intend to Use Them.

Freshly Dug Potatoes (Adirondack Red, Rose Gold and a Variety of Fingerlings) in My Potager

Once Washed, Potatoes Should be Used Right Away (Shown here: La Ratte and Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Getting Rooted: Pretty Potatoes, Colorful Carrots, Radiant Radishes & Beautiful Beets…

February 23rd, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Now that I have enlarged the potager, I’m planning a bumper crop of colorful potatoes!

Radishes and carrots make great companions, not only in salads, but in the potager as well (see pelletized carrot seed planting tip/velvet carrot recipe here, and read a carrot/radish companion planting article here)

Colorful Salad of Red and Gold Beets Arugula and Feta (Click here for recipe)

I’m getting back to my roots this week… My root vegetable roots, that is. The first carrots of the season were sown in the hoophouses last week, and I’ve just finished ordering a half dozen colorful varieties of seed potatoes from Ronnigers/Potato Garden and the Maine Potato Lady (potatoes are planted when the soil temp. reaches about 50° F, approximately 2 weeks before the last frost date. Usually that is early May here in southern VT).  I’ve been enjoying summertime produce all winter —potatoes, carrots and leeks in particular— pulled up from my cool root cellar. This year I plan on planting even more earthy jewels —in every color of the rainbow— to enjoy throughout the summer and harvest in fall for winter storage. Most root crops are planted early in the season, and some can be repeat-sown for a second, autumn harvest. So, I like to plan out this part of my garden very carefully.

Potato Hills in My Spring/Summer Potager: Here Planted with Early Crops & Flowers (incluing chard, nasturtium, peas)

Root vegetables grow best in deep, loose, sandy loam. I plant my potatoes in trenches and then hill them with soil as they grow. Potatoes may also be planted shallowly and mulched up as they grow with clean straw or other materials, or they can be grown in containers; including barrels, wire cages and bags. Other root vegetables —such as carrots and beets— are best grown directly in deep, loose soil or in raised beds. I like to grow my vegetables in wide, earthen mounds (similar to constructed beds, but with sloped sides, exposed for extra planting space) which give my crops an extra 8-12″ of depth at the root zone. There are many ways to grow vegetable crops, and how you choose to plant your garden depends largely upon your site. Raised beds offer many advantages for gardeners struggling with limited space and/or poor soil. Some vegetable growers choose to adhere to a strict ‘Square Foot Gardening‘ planting plan —popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book by the same name— while others continue to grow crops in straight, narrowly hoed rows. My approach to potager design is a somewhat looser; closely resembling French vegetable gardening in style, with cultural methods similar to those of garden author Ed Smith (I am a fan of his classic, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and always recommend it to my garden clients). I like to encourage gardeners to experiment with their space and adopt methods of cultivation that work best for them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the most interesting horticultural innovations have come from creative, experimental growers.

Colorful vegetable crops delight the eye and jazz up the dinner plate

Last Year’s Delightful Potato Crop

I have two, somewhat overlapping careers. In addition to designing gardens and gardening professionally, I am also an exhibiting artist. And as a painter, my eye is naturally drawn to the full spectrum of color, form and textural possibilities in vegetable gardening. Sure, I grow orange carrots, red radishes and brown potatoes. But I also love electric yellow and rose-colored carrots, pink and white striped radishes, gold and ruby-hued beets, and potatoes in every color from yellow and pink to red, purple and blue. And why not? If I’m growing my own food, I might as well have fun with it. And with many colorful cultivars, the tastes are as deliciously varied as the hues.

This year I am planting Adirondack Blue and Red standard potatoes, and Peruvian Purple, Red Thumb and French fingerlings; among other varieties chosen for color, flavor and texture. As for other roots, I’ll be growing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Yellow carrots, in addition to the usual orange. And planned radish crops include French D’avignon, Watermelon, Purple Plum and Cherry Belle. As for beets? I am growing Golden, Chioggia and Merlin this spring, but if you know of something beautiful and tasty, let me know and I’ll put it in as a fall crop! I buy the bulk of my vegetable seed from several east coast companies; including High Mowing and Johnny’s and  I also order herbs, greens, flowers and gourds from Renee’s GardenBurpee, and Botanical Interests.

Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket and Rosemary (click here for recipe)

Getting the maximum productivity out of a vegetable garden’s usually-limited space is a goal most gardeners can relate to, and with a bit of creative planning, it is possible for a well designed vegetable garden to be both efficient and beautiful. If you haven’t visited this site’s “Potager” page in awhile (over to the left), you may want to click on over for a visit. I have been updating the page —and will continue to do so throughout the season— with links back to vegetable gardening articles and recipes for all of your beautiful garden produce. If you are looking for more potager ideas, I highly recommend the two excellent vegetable garden design books linked below, which I personally own and absolutely love…

Jennifer Bartley’s Designing the New Kitchen Garden is one of my favorite vegetable gardening resources. I highly recommend it. Bartley has a new book out, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook from Timber Press. I have not seen it yet.

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping is a title I chose to review for Barnes & Noble. This is a wonderful new book, filled with fantastic ideas for building a pretty potager all your own.

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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