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)

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