So I love growing cucumbers. I love waking up in the morning and traipsing out to the garden with a mug of coffee in my robe and Sloggers and peeking under the prickly leaves to see what the morning dew hath wrought. I love growing beans and fighting with the Japanese Beetles (as in I ruthlessly schmush them between my thumb and forefinger) for the lion’s share of the crop. I love Fava beans and their regal, spongey pods. Tomatoes? Yes! Lettuce? But of course! Thai basil? You betcha! Acorn squash? Yes, please…
But I never gave potatoes much thought. My theory was, as I told my neighbor and veggie-garden Guru, Wayne: “You can get potatoes anywhere. They have potatoes at the Price Chopper. I don’t need to grow potatoes.”
Wayne narrowed his eyes and let out the tiniest chuckle (as is Wayne’s M.O. on this sort of thing) and said, “Well, you’ve never tasted a potato fresh from the garden then.”
Wayne is a very smart man (we head over to his house with a blanket and a lounge chair each year for the 3:00 a.m. spectacle of the Pleiades meteor shower – about which Wayne knows everything), a very kind neighbor, and an excellent gardener.
In other words, when it comes to vegetables, Wayne knows his sh*t; so of course the very next year I grew potatoes.
Potatoes exemplify the way of the garden. You yank them out with shock and glee: they are perfumed with…how you say…a potato-y scent, which is quite lovely but would make a terrible name for an actual perfume: “Potato, by Annick Goutal.” Their colors are shockingly bright and animated.
A Peruvian Purple looks like an unwrapped Crayola Crayon.
A Colorado Rose is as bright as Nicki Minaj’s lipstick. La Ratte fingerlings, made famous by chef Joël Robuchon and his Purée de ratte, really do have this rat-like personality as you pull their tails from the clump of earth they cling to.
When an uninitiated new friend arrives at The Muddy Kitchen, and the timing is right (end-ish of summer), I take them out to The Muddy Garden and hand them a pair of gloves and a pitchfork and point them to the unassuming patch of dead-looking junk in the corner.
“What’s this for?” they ask fearfully. “I dunno…how…to…how…”
I only have to show them how to unearth a potato once and they’re hooked. Fork in. Fork out. And a treasure trove of characters comes with it. Soon the whole patch is carved up and my new guest is smiling and panting and ready to take on the next garden job.
“Look, honey! I picked all these potatoes!!!” And a new gardener is born.
But mere moments after they’ve been snipped away from their living state, these bright Crayolas of the Earth fade. Their fantasy-like spectrum turns from “Vivid Violet” to a pale, purple-ish, pink-ish, ratte-ish. Life in the garden is fleeting – the perfume diminishes, the florescent color seeps out, the intensity mellows – even in the few minute walk from the garden gate to the kitchen.
But no matter how immediately they fade, potatoes are splendid gifts from the darkness below. They make everyone who digs them up happy and self-satisfied.
Wayne, as usual, was right.
…FYI, I buy my potato seed from Ronniger’s who now seems to go by the name Potato Garden (catchier?). They have a great selection but always seem to run out of my first choices before I get my order in. Order early and realize that even your third or fourth choice potatoes will be better than anything you’ve ever tasted.
We eat potatoes dozens of ways. Fresh from the garden, we often simply steam them to get their fullest, potato-y-est flavor. My dad likes to eat them raw like little apples, although I’m sure I heard somewhere that immediate and painful potato-bacterial-related death might occur from eating raw potatoes, but my dad’s still alive and kicking after a dozen or so raw specimens in July.
But cooking potatoes always comes back to “Roasted with Garlic & Rosemary” for us. It’s like the “Our Song” of potato preparations, one that makes us swoon with love and memories of all the roasted potatoes gone by. It’s a staple in our repertoire and probably makes it onto our table at least twice a week.
ROASTED POTATOES WITH GARLIC & ROSEMARY
32 very small potatoes left whole (or 16 sorta small potatoes sliced in half)
One head of garlic (or less if you plan on kissing later)
1/4 cup of medium to excellent quality olive oil
4 sprigs of rosemary
4 sprigs of thyme (optional)
1 tbsp of crunchy, nice quality sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 425°.
- If the potatoes are the size of a large marble, leave them whole. If they are golf-ball size or larger, cut them in 1/2 or 1/4. (I like to do this lengthwise because it’s cute – but any slice will work.)
- Toss potatoes into an ovenproof dish: a glass pie dish, an oval ceramic dish, or something pretty that can go from oven to table.
- Tick the sprigs of rosemary and, if you want, thyme, underneath the potatoes.
- Slice the top off the head of garlic and separate the cloves but don’t peel. Add the garlic cloves, ‘paper’ and all, to the dish of potatoes.
- Pour the olive oil on top of the potatoes. Don’t be afraid to o.d. a bit on the oil (my common refrain!). The oil makes them sensuous and decadent. I guess, if you’re on a diet (groan), then what-ever, but my personal theory is: the good-quality oil is good for you and ultimately helps you eat less and be totally gorgies all over.
- Sprinkle the crunchy salt on top of the whole dang mess.
- Pop in the oven. In about 30 minutes, check them. They should be shriveling up and getting golden and crispy on the outside edge. If they’re seriously not getting golden and crispy, then turn up the oven to 450°. Once they are getting crispy then give them a shake and scrape them around with a spatula to get the other side exposed to the heat. You may notice there’s not enough oil on them at this point. So…hello?!…add more oil! (I often skimp on the oil and the salt and get a ‘talking to’ from my husband about the subtleties of this dish.)
- Once they are all crispy on at least one side then they’re ready. That can take about 40 – 60 minutes depending on how many hundreds of times you’ve opened the oven door. The rosemary and thyme will crisp up too and both are delicious to munch.
Take your boots off before you come in here!