During the spring Easter or Passover season, many of us are looking for those perfect dishes for a feast. Side dish ideas are often left to last minute and thrown together. This year, my family decided to make a sexy side dish with potatoes. Now, potatoes may not sound very sexy, but when you add truffle salt, that’s pretty exciting.
Although not native to Italy, the potato has a long history in Italy. Brought from the “new” world in 1585 it was first thought to be a strange and somewhat evil plant. It took the food shortages of the 17th and 18th century for the potato to be used as food for human consumption, and then it was only eaten by the lower classes. The Napoleonic wars devastated the farms of Europe, but the potato, grown underground, survived and began to be eaten by all. In Italy it was found to be particularly useful in creating the famous “Gnocchi”, little potato dumplings, and soon was accepted by the upper classes.
In Florida, spring is potato season, and I recently visited a local potato farm. The Jones Potato Farm plants over 2,000 acres with a variety of potatoes. From the planting, it takes 120 days until harvest. I discovered that it isn’t the starch or waxiness that determines what a potato is best suited for, instead it is a matter of specific gravity. Farmer Jones told me that the lower gravity potatoes are better for roasting and making mashed potatoes, while the higher gravity ones are better for frying and potato chips. He described it as the “stick in your teeth” difference.
Each plant produces between 8 to 10 potatoes. While there is still green on the plant, the skin of the potato is soft and scratches easily. The potato farmer has to kill the top of the plant and wait a couple of weeks before harvest, to set the skin. I was lucky enough to be allowed to pick some potatoes and found a ruby red cluster of goose eggs beneath.
That night, we ate the potatoes. The skins were thinner than what we buy at the market, but we also noticed that these potatoes had flavor and texture that we haven’t been aware of before. We prepared them simply, boiled with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and a dash of truffle salt. They were delicious and tender, I looked at Giuliano and said,“ It’s a pity that potatoes don’t get more respect”. I know I will never take a potato for granted again.
We used truffle salt on our potatoes to enhance the flavor. The girls liked it so much that they wanted them again the next evening.