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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Gourmet Gardening: Seed Potatoes – Plus an Easy Recipe for Oven Roasted Fingerlings with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan Cheese…

January 16th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan in an oven-table baking dish by Emile Henry…

Look a little tempting? I confess I just finished off my second bowl of fingerlings about an hour ago. Mmmm. Delicious. As you may remember, last week I touched on the subject of gourmet potatoes in my post on potato leek soup. My country-neighbors, the Millers, operate a small greenhouse called The Old Schoolhouse Plantery where they grow and sell rare conservatory plants, annuals, herbs and gourmet vegetable starts. John also sells his organic produce at the local farmer’s market. Throughout the winter, his booth is a popular place to find gourmet root vegetables  – particularly potatoes. This past spring, upon John’s recommendation, I grew a few gourmet potatoes from seed purchased at Ronnigers Potato Farm, and they were the tastiest spuds I have ever eaten. I tell you, there is nothing like the reward of a delicious crop to motivate a gardener to keep on planting. After cooking a few dishes with gourmet fingerling potatoes, I am convinced that an entire corner of my potager should be dedicated to these tubers. I tried oven roasting some fingerlings with an olive oil/parmesan coating today, (pictured in the baking dish above), and they were lip-smacking good!

This year, I am planning to add many more gourmet potatoes to my potager; including ‘rose fin apple’ fingerlings and other colorful varieties, such ‘all blue’ and ‘purple viking’. Although winter has only just arrived, I am already thinking about this year’s seed order. Seed potatoes are planted in the garden when the soil temperature reaches approximately 45 ° F, (7° C). Usually, the soil reaches this temperature by mid-spring here; about three weeks before the last frost-date. If you live in a warmer climate, potatoes may go in by late winter, (check zone maps and potato seed catalogs for specific location planting times). When plotting out your vegetable garden, remember to rotate your crops each year. To avoid disease and confuse pests, it’s best never to plant potatoes in last-year’s tomato bed. Marigold, bush beans, corn and cabbage are a few good potato companions. But again, in order to avoid insect pests and diseases, locate crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins in the opposite corner of your garden as they are not good companions for potatoes. Many gardeners start potatoes in shallow trenches and then ‘hill’ them as they grow. I will go over this method and the straw-mulching hill method as we get closer to planting time.

Right now I am obsessively thinking about all the delicious gourmet potato varieties I want to grow and how much room I can devote to this versatile crop. Seed potatoes are planted approximately one foot apart, so they take up some space in the garden. Last season, I had great success with the ‘Desiree’. This is a beautiful pink-skinned potato with yellow flesh; one that stores well and holds its texture when cooked. Easy to grow, this popular European-gourmet potato is resistant to many diseases, including blights. Of course the fingerling varieties have definitely become favorites. When it comes to flavor and cooking texture, (especially when pureed in soups), it’s hard to beat the ‘Rose Finn Apple’ fingerling potato, (pictured in this post). ‘LaRatte’ is another great gourmet potato, with firm texture and a unique, nutty flavor. Both of these varieties are on my shopping list.

If you haven’t tried growing gourmet fingerlings, you may want to give them some space in your kitchen garden this year. Perhaps you’ve never tasted these delicious potatoes? Well then… I encourage you to pick some up at your local winter farmer’s market – I think you will quickly come to understand what all the fuss is about…

‘Rose Finn Apple’ Fingerling Potatoes from Ronniger’s – before and after a scrub down with a bristle brush…

Ronnigers Potato Farm Online

Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Parmesan and Fresh Herbs

Ingredients:

(serves 4, double recipe to increase quantities as you like)

2 lb           Fingerling potatoes, washed and cut in half lengthwise

1/4 c         Olive oil

1/4 c         All purpose flour

1/4 c         Reggiano parmesan cheese, grated

1 tsp         Sea salt, fresh ground or regular table salt

1 tsp         Black pepper, fresh ground

sprigs       Fresh rosemary and thyme, a few sprigs to taste

(try this with a clove of garlic and other herbs if you like)

Directions:

Preheat oven, (rack toward the top), to 475 degrees fahrenheit.

In a small glass bowl, (or in a large plastic bag), measure in olive oil, flour and parmesan. Add salt and pepper. Stir or shake to mix well.

In a large bowl, toss cut fingerlings with 1 tbs olive oil to lightly coat. Add dry mix to the large bowl, (or add potatoes to the large plastic bag), and toss with hands, (or shake bag). Be sure the potatoes are thoroughly and evenly coated.

Coat an oven-to-table baking dish with the remaining olive oil and arrange the potatoes cut -side up. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and thyme.

Roast for approximately 15 minutes, Turn the potatoes and roast for approximately 15 more minutes more. Turn one last time and roast until crisp and golden brown, (approximately 10-15 more minutes).

Cool dish for a few minutes, garnish with a few more sprigs of herbs and serve hot with a tablespoon of sour cream if you like.


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Photographs and Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without prior written consent. Please do not republish images or text excerpts without permission. Inspired by something you see here ? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you ! Michaela

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