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Cooking for Comfort

Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: The news about new potatoes

Potatoes

A true new potato is harvested before it reaches maturity, so the season can run from the spring to early summer.

What’s new about a new potato? A true new potato is harvested before it reaches maturity, so the season can run from the spring to early summer. The skin will be easy to flake off with your thumbnail and they will be small, like the size of large marbles (but does anyone play marbles or even know what they look like anymore?) Another way to size them would be about the width of your thumb's first joint.

Ken Morris

Ken Morris

But why should you care about the size and age of your potatoes? Like just corn, peas, and some other vegetables, a potato’s sugars begin converting into starch as soon as it’s picked. If you’re buying fresh potatoes, as at the Napa Farmers Market, they will be low in starch and almost sweet. They’ll also be firmer and moister than potatoes that have been stored.

When you get them home from the market, don't refrigerate them. Store them in a cool, dark place (I have a basket inside my kitchen cabinet just for potatoes). And, take advantage of those flavors in a day or two; they don’t last forever. New potatoes are best when they are steamed or boiled. This is not the classic Russet potato, which is better for baking or frying.

Herby Steamed Potatoes

Serves 4 with a meal

Adapted from "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

When I first started to learn to cook, "The New Basics Cookbook" was a top seller, written by the same duo who first ran a gourmet food shop in New York City called The Silver Palate and had already written Silver Palate Cookbook and Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook.

I read it from front to back like it was a thrilling novel since it was packed with not only great recipes but shared their tips from entertaining, such as describing the different variety of olives to serve, where to stack dinner plates for the buffet table (at the start) and even the best dinner table to encourage conversation (a round table). Menus and snappy culinary quotes are sprinkled throughout the book. It’s still a great source of ideas when I can’t think of what to serve for a dinner party.

This recipe takes advantage of the freshness of new potatoes by not roasting them but simply steaming them and tossing them with a little butter.

12 very small new potatoes, skin scrubbed but left on

1 cup water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (yes, I do add a little extra but one tablespoon will work fine)

Kosher salt

Black pepper, freshly ground

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley or fresh dill

Place the potatoes and water in a saucepan and bring o a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure the potatoes are cooked in water and don’t burn on the side of the pan. Cook until the potatoes are tender, around 30 minutes. You should be able to pass a sharp knife tip through the potato without resistance. Drain the potatoes and return to a hot saucepan. Shake it over low heat to remove the remaining moisture, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, a dash of salt, several grinds of pepper, and parsley, and toss well. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl for passing among guests.

Confit of Potatoes Provençal

Serves 6 with a meal

Adapted from "A Passion for Potatoes" by Lydie Marshall

While this sounds like an elaborate French technique, confit is an ancient way of preserving meat (not usually vegetables) where it is salted and slowly cooked in its own fat. For this recipe, it indicates that we are using the technique of combining salt, fat, and heat to produce something wonderful from potatoes.

I’ve had a passion for potatoes for a long time. How do I know? I’ve had the book "A Passion for Potatoes" by Lydie Marshall since it was published in 1992 (It even has a forward by New Yorker columnist Calvin Trillin, which is not that odd since he wrote several books focusing on food including, "American Fried"; "Alice, Let's Eat"; and "Third Helpings"). Ms. Marshall’s passion for potatoes ranges from appetizers to main courses and even desserts, which I haven’t felt pressure to cook yet.

¼ cup olive oil (not the expensive kind)

2 ½ pounds new potatoes, scrubbed but skin left on

1 ½ teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 ½ to 2 cups rich chicken broth (ideally this is homemade)

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Once hot, add the potatoes and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Sprinkle and salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Pour in 1 cup of broth, lower the heat, and cook the potatoes, partially covered, until the broth is totally evaporated. Run a sharp knife through a few potatoes to see if there is any resistance. If there is, add more broth and continue braising until tender. Keep warm until ready to serve your meal.

New Potatoes with Butter Lettuce and Poached Egg

Serves 4 as a light meal

1 pound new potatoes

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved on the bias

1 pound thin asparagus, tough stems trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 to 2 heads butter lettuce (depending on their size) leaves separated, large ones torn into 2-inch pieces (about 12 ounces)

4 large fresh eggs (fresh is very important in poaching eggs)

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives (from 1 bunch), for garnish

Vinaigrette

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Cover potatoes with 2 inches of water in a pot and bring to a boil; add salt. Cook until potatoes are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

When the potatoes are cooked, remove with a slotted spoon. Add snap peas and asparagus to a pot, and boil until slightly tender but still crisp, about 2 minutes; drain.

Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick rounds while the potatoes are still warm. Divide lettuce and vegetables among 4 plates. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

Poaching eggs: Add enough water in a deep pan so it will completely cover the four eggs when they are added. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons white vinegar and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat.

Meanwhile, crack 1 very fresh cold large egg into a custard cup or small ramekin. Carefully drop the egg into the top portion of the pan. Use a spoon to keep the most transparent white around the yoke from spreading out in the pan.

Add each egg the same way, working your way from the 12 o’clock position to the 3 o’clock position, then the 6 o’clock position followed by the 9 o’clock position. The water should be simmering but not bubbling.

After 3 minutes check the egg at the 12 o’clock position. The white should have formed around the yolk but the yolk will still move when you gently push it with your spatula. Use a slotted spoon to retrieve the eggs and working in the order you slid them into the water, place one on each plate of new potatoes on lettuce.

Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with chives. When you slice into the egg it should mingle and form its own sauce on the plate. I always serve with toasted bread to dip into the sauce.

Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email macmor@sbcglobal.net.

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