6.03.2010

You Say Potato, I Say Paesano

The poor potato. It has sure put up with a lot over the years. First, it was attacked by blight in the mid 19th century, during the infamous potato famine in Ireland. Then, in the mid 20th century (and again in the late 20th century), a flock of bacon-eating Atkins dieters attacked the potato, in a last-ditch attempt to shed pounds. I don’t know which is worse: a moldy, spore-spreading fungus causing massive starvation or doughy carb-deprived potato haters. I imagine in both camps people were pretty irritable.

Frankly, I get a little defensive when it comes the potato. I feel like it is misunderstood: the Marlon Brando of the vegetable world, if you will. And so, I often find myself defending them.

Yes, they are a “carb,” but so are peas and corn and you don’t see them terrorizing the neighborhood. Potatoes also have vitamin C, potassium, fiber and disease-fighting phytochemicals, the inner dietitian in me wants to scream. Instead, I usually just reach for the ketchup.

The more potatoes are defamed, the more I like them. Thankfully, I am not to only one. In May, I was at a Slow Food Boston book discussion with author Amy Cotler; she was speaking about her book, The Lovacore Way, when the issue of Maine potatoes came up.

Apparently, they are not easy to find in Boston, though Maine is one of the only East Coast states with prolific potato production. A woman in the audience waxed poetically about Maine potatoes like they were rare Afghani opium. She was clearly jonzin’ for a fix. I was intrigued. The very next weekend—oddly enough—I stumbled upon some Maine potatoes at Harvest Co-op in Cambridge. I was giddy.

I bought up a hefty few carb-loving pounds and headed for home. Now, I’ve made oven fries many times, but these were by far my best. Ever. Maybe it was the use of herbs from my garden. Maybe it was the new bright green, intensely grassy, Paesano olive oil I bought. (I kid you not, that was the brand name. Oh, the irony.) Or maybe, just maybe, it was the Maine potatoes. Whatever it was that fateful day, the oven fries were fabulous; crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, golden brown and worth doing hard time for. So, should you encounter a potato-phobe in your future, simply buy some Maine potatoes and make him an oven fry he can’t refuse.

Oven Fried Herbed Maine Potatoes

3-4 large potatoes, cut into long wedges
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp herbs, minced (such as rosemary and thyme)
2-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place potatoes on a baking sheet and toss with garlic, herbs, olive oil and salt and pepper (until potatoes are thoroughly coated and shiny). Roast at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until deep golden brown.

Serves about 4-5.

Notes:

The russet potato has a high starch, low moisture content, which makes for great oven fries.

Some recipes say to turn potatoes in the oven every so often. I found that turning these potatoes once, towards the end of their cooking, was sufficient.

Don’t forget to check the farmers’ market for local potato varieties; you should see them start to pop up in Boston July through November.


4 comments:

  1. Hooray for Maine potatoes! We grow a lot of 'em up in "The County"as we call it. I went on a field trip to a potato farm in third grade. The harvest is such an important part of the economy that you can get a vacation from school to pick potatoes. Though, as you can imagine, it's not as robust as it used to be for the family farms. Damned agribusiness. Great post!

    -Ian

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  2. A potato vacation: now that's a concept I can really wrap my head around. I'll be sure to continue posting about potatoes for all those little Maine third-graders. Cheers to the family potato farmer! Thanks Ian!

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  3. You are too funny! I almost don't want to eat this potato in front of me now that you compared it to Marlon Brando. Or maybe, I want it more? Hey - where are the blue potatoes. They are nowhere to be found???

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  4. A Plum By Any Other NameJune 17, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    Hang tight little buddy--the blue potatoes are a comin'. Don't you hate it when food reminds you of the godfather himself?

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