Friday, May 9, 2008

Rosemary-Garlic Smothered Potatoes

Potatoes are an all time American favorite, as they should be, they are native to the Americas. Even so, the potato was not introduced into North America until the 18th century. According to Elizabeth Schneider, author of Vegetables, from Amaranth to Zucchini (2001, William Morrow, pg 500), the potato took the long route to North America via Irish immigrants instead of coming straight from their native South America. There are over 2,000 varieties of potatoes grown throughout the world, yet in America, only about four are regularly grown and consumed. Fortunately, because of farmers concerned about diversity and chefs looking for more interesting vegetables to put on their menus, our potato portfolio is expanding.

Small, petite potatoes are all the rage, as well as potatoes varying in colors from red, to gold, to white, to purple. It is good to experiment with all kinds to find the ones you enjoy the most. Just because the color is pretty does not mean the flavor is all that interesting. A potatoes texture can vary just as much as its color and shape. Some potatoes, such as reds, are waxy in texture and hold their shape well once cooked. Waxy potatoes are excellent for steaming, boiling, and roasting. Starchier potatoes, such as russets, have a fluffy, dry texture and fall apart more easily once cooked. Use these as mashed potatoes, or in potato gratins where their starch content is necessary to hold the gratin together. Blue or purple potatoes are quite popular because of their unusual, interesting color. Their flavor can be quite good, and they are a little more on the starchy side. They fall apart a bit easily when boiled and turn an odd gray color, which is unattractive for a mashed or pureed potato. Use these in a mix of roasted potatoes or roasted vegetables to bring out their unique color. The distinctive Fingerling potato is also a new favorite. They are quite pricey, are always small, and have an elongated, slightly twisted shape. They come in all colors and flavors and are firm when cooked. They are great for potato salads, roasted, braised, or sauteed.

Don't be fooled by the label "New potato", which most people have come to understand as meaning any small potato. A new potato is actually the very first harvest of a potato plant while the foliage is still green. New potatoes can be be both small and mature and are easiest to find in late spring through summer at a farmers market. New potatoes will have very thin, delicate skin and juicier flesh. A potatoes natural season is late spring and all during summer, but once harvested and properly cured, they can be stored throughout the autumn and winter until the next crop arrives. This ability to store well makes the potato a great autumn and winter food when other foods are scarce.

Prepare the more unique potatoes and small potatoes simply. Their delicate flavors can be overpowered easily. Potatoes have a natural affinity for flavorful fats such as good olive oil and walnut oil, as well as almost all herbs. Just a little extra virgin olive oil, flaky salt, and parsley will make an amazing side dish out of almost any small potato.

Rosemary and Garlic Smothered Baby Red Potatoes
For this dish I like to use potatoes no bigger than the size of a golf ball, but any potato can be used, just cut them into the appropriate sized chunks. Fingerlings would be perfect for this dish as well. If you happen to come across a variety of potato called German Butterball, buy some, they are wonderful and would be great here. They have a papery skin and beautiful yellow, buttery flesh. This recipe would serve between 2-4 people as a side dish.

-15 small red potatoes about the size of a golf ball.
-4 large cloves garlic, minced
-1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup water of vegetable stock
-salt and freshly ground pepper (I like to use white pepper)

Scrub the potatoes clean if any dirt is still clinging to their skins. Cut the potatoes in half length wise to create the most surface area possible.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add in the potatoes, cut side down, and immediately shake the pan to keep the potatoes from sticking. Let the potatoes become golden on the cut side, shaking the potatoes often to keep them loose, about 7-8 minutes. When golden, turn off the heat and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Return the pan to medium heat and add in the garlic along with a little salt and pepper. Add in the garlic and saute for about 2 minutes to soften. Add in the rosemary and about 1/2 cup water or stock. Bring to a simmer and partially cover the pan. Let the potatoes cook until they are easily pierced with the tip of a knife yet still slightly firm. If the liquid in the pan dries up before the potatoes reach this point, add in the last 1/4 of liquid to finish. Remove the lid and turn up the heat to finish reducing any liquid that remains in the pan. Swirl the pan to coat the potatoes in the garlic, rosemary, and reduced liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot or warm.

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