New Potatoes: Not Even Thin-Skinned

By Corby Kummer
See web-only content:
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/08/new-potatoes-not-even-thin-skinned/23376/

As I've said in the magazine and here, new potatoes are more unlike anything else that's familiar that you get fresh at a farmer's market, even if they look the same. Their skin hasn't even formed yet, so it flakes away with the merest prod of a fingernail, and not even a sharp one at that. The starch hasn't fully changed to sugar, so they have a softer and far sweeter texture than any potato you're used to.

Ana Sortun, of the marvelous eastern-Mediterranean-themed Oleana restaurant, in Cambridge, calls them her "my favorite crop in the whole wide world"--and she should know, as she's married to the farmer Chris Kurth, of Siena Farms, and can pick (as in choose) what she wants to cook every morning before she leaves for the restaurant.

In our new video, she slices open new potatoes and shows the glistening, "bright, vibrant" sugar that immediately forms a sheen on the surface. I learned my own favorite way to make these from Barbara Kafka, who uses the French étuvé method of placing them with a knob of butter and a very small amount of water in closely covered, heavy-bottomed pot and shakes them for 25 minutes, never opening the pot, or so until they're steamed soft and browned all over. As devastating as this summer's late blight has been to tomatoes and to some of Siena Farm's potatoes, many of the new small red have been spared, and you're likely to find new potatoes at your farmer's market too.

There wasn't time to show more than Ana wrapping a beautiful piece of sea bass with a new leaf--or new to me: not the tomato leaves that are my current summertime love but brussels-sprouts leaves. They're not dainty, peeled-off leaves of the sprouts themselves, as you'd think. Farmer's market regulars are by now used to the spiny, surprisingly sturdy stalks the sprouts cluster on, and might even bring one as a conversation piece and giant centerpiece, then snap off the sprouts for supper.

It never occurred to me that the big, floppy leaves farmers usually cut off before bringing the stalks to the market could have a culinary use--okay, I admit that it never occurred to me that there were big, floppy leaves. They're pretty, like cabbage leaves, and a bit more kidney-shaped. Ana blanched them and laid them flat on a towel to dry and, as you'll see in the video, used them as a wrapper for the fillets and a few of the vegetables--carrots, potatoes--the farm had sent that day, and a sprinkling of some of her favorite sweet Aleppo pepper (she sells spice blends at the restaurant, and you'll find many uses for them in her book Spice). We devoured the dish as soon as it came out of the battered pie pan she uses for individual orders, after just ten minutes in a hot oven. The leaf was unexpectedly sweet and tender, and made me hope that her husband--and other farmers, providing recipes of course--will sell it.

This is the time to look for the perfect-pupil traits Ana enumerated in her husband's vegetables. "They're alive," she told me. "There's life in them. They have good posture." Stand up straight and go straight to a market! After, of course, being inspired by Ana at work.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/08/new-potatoes-not-even-thin-skinned/23376/