Eat Like a Farmer: Specialty Potatoes
Far from Idaho and thousands of years before the origin of French fries and ketchup, potatoes were being cultivated in the high hanging valleys of the Andes. Back then, potatoes were black, green, red, and yellow, and every color in between. Some were long like sausages, some were incredibly small.
The Latin name for potatoes is Solanum tuberosum. Today, the Wikipedia entry for potatoes includes over 200 cultivars, from Adirondack Blue to Yukon Gold, but there are way more than that in existence. Solanacaea is an incredibly diverse plant family. It includes everything from tomatoes to tobacco, eggplants to petunias. And of course potatoes.
In culinary terms, potatoes can be divided into two basic categories: waxy and floury. Floury potatoes are the famous ones—think Idaho Russets. If you’re after baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, latkes, or French fries, standard Russets are the way to go.
Most specialty potatoes, however, are farther down along the “waxy” continuum. This means the flesh is denser than that of russet potatoes, and it holds together better when boiled. The texture is pleasant and smooth whether served hot or cold, which is why waxy type potatoes are better for potato salads. When people try to describe the flavor of these denser potato varieties, you’ll often hear characterizations like nutty or roasted or mushroomy.
The skins of most specialty potatoes are so thin we never peel them at our house, but only if they’re from our farm or another organic farm we trust. Conventionally grown potatoes are one of the most chemically intensive vegetable crops.
As many as 84% of conventionally grown potatoes turn up positive for at least one and as many as six types of pesticide residues. To learn more about chemical residues and vegetables, visit the watchdog organization Environmental Working Group for more information at www.ewg.org.
Potatoes are ideally stored in a place that’s cool and dark, but not cold. If you store them in the fridge, the plant’s starches will eventually turn into sugar—perhaps not the effect you’re going for. If they’re only going to be around our kitchen for a couple weeks at the most, we keep potatoes in a dark cupboard.
If you keep them right on the counter, choose a dark corner. When exposed to too much sunlight, all potatoes will start to produce a toxin called solanine. You’ll know it’s happening when the potatoes turn greenish where they were exposed to the light.
Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes
Narrow, tender-skinned, the color of buttercream frosting, Russian Banana potatoes are absolutely delicious any way you prepare them.
Our Favorite Cooking Method: Steamed and drizzled with butter and herbs, particularly rosemary.
These gold-fleshed potatoes have twice as much vitamin C as a regular baking potato, as well as a respectable amount of potassium.
Our Favorite Cooking Method: Sliced very thinly and kept in the shape of a potato, then drizzled with butter and baked, in the style of Hasselback potatoes.
French Fingerling Potatoes
These potatoes are more oblong than skinny, smoother and more regular in shape than most of our farm’s specialty potatoes. Their gentle pink flesh is sometimes enlivened with a deep salmon-colored burst of pigment.
Like most fingerling potatoes, French fingerlings are best shown off in soups and stews and potato salads, such as the one suggested below.
Our Favorite Cooking Method: Steamed with kale and dressed with mustard vinaigrette, then served as a room temperature winter salad.
Papa Cacho Fingerling
These are our longest fingerling potatoes—indeed, they are the ones most resembling fingers. The texture is very firm. They’re dramatic-looking when halved the long way and roasted, but we always parboil them first so they don’t dry out too much in the oven.
Our Favorite Cooking Method: Diced into a nourishing chicken soup.
This is a new variety of potato, specialty bred in Maryland for its high levels of vitamin C and carotenoids, including the eye-protecting antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein.
The New York Times food editor described the taste as "a full earthy flavor with hints of hazelnuts."
A serving of Peter Wilcox potatoes contains 40% of the RDA for vitamin C, and is 15% higher in carotenoids than gold potatoes.
Peter Wilcox potatoes have a good, all-purpose texture, and are well-suited to roasting, stewing, and home fries.
Our Favorite Cooking Method: Tucked under a pork roast with thyme and carrots.
All Blue Fingerling Potatoes
Anything but ordinary, the fingerling potato known as All Blue is another great all-purpose potato that is exceptionally nutritious. Purple potatoes can carry as much as four times the antioxidant value as common white potatoes. In fact, the anthocyanins that give them color are the same antioxidants that make purple and red fruits like pomegranates and blueberries so strikingly good for you.
Our Favorite Cooking Method: Partially steamed, then roasted with smashed garlic and herbs.
This article can also be found as part of our "Eat Like a Farmer" series on the Petoskey News-Review.