Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The not so humble potato


Tasmanian pink eyes, cooked

Tasmanian pink-eyes, uncooked

Congo Blues
It's new-potato season again, one of my favourite times of the vegetable-garden year. Sadly, Australians often think of potatoes as a dull if trusty vegetable, a filler, a blank, something that gets mashed and boiled and fried but that's mainly there as filler. And so many people also don't realise that the humble spud, murphy, call it what you will, comes in more than just the clean and dirty varieties you get in bags in the supermarket, either skins covered in brown dirt or scrubbed clean and white or clean and pink. No, potatoes come with different names, colours, origins, flavours, textures that are all different from each other. And as a vegetable they can be absolutely divine, especially when they're new, like right now, and just dug out of the ground, as ours are. 
New England, or at least the Guyra district, used to be known for its potatoes, grown in the beautiful basalt soil on top of the range. There are good potatoes in Dorrigo too. But though they are quite nice when they're new, there's not that many varieties grown there. In fact maybe just two or three-- Sebago, Desiree and Pontiac, the trusty standards of the Aussie spud world. Tasmania is where you have to go to find not only a much wider range of potatoes, including ones developed in the island state--like the famous Tasmanian pink-eye potato--but also more respect for them as a culinary delight--I remember with great affection for instance a wonderful plate of roasted pink-eyes with garlic and rosemary and coarse salt that made a perfect meal in themselves.
This year, in the garden, we have quite a range again: the delicious pink-eyes, with their characteristic yellow, buttery flesh and pink-dotted knobbly shapes(these are also the first to pop up) ; luscious little Kipflers, or 'mouse potatoes', as they're sometimes called, because of their elongated shape with sometimes a little 'tail' remaining where they were connected to the mother plant; blue-skinned Royal Blues and pink-skinned Desirees; white-skinned Sebagos and melting-textured Dutch creams, and the strange, all-blue Congo Blue. All of these grew from 'seed potato' harvested in the supermarket--ie we keep an eye out on new varieties available there, buy some and keep a few back for planting! And they've all grown really well so we'll probably have potatoes for months and months(they keep very well if they're left in the soil and only taken out when you're about to cook them.)
At the moment, because they've just come on and their flesh is so meltingly luscious, we're tending to eat them very simply 'as is', the skins only rubbed off, not peeled, and the vegetable boiled, and served with garlic, herbs, and butter. But later, we'll be doing a whole lot more with them, enjoying them in all sorts of ways, just as they're meant to be, and each variety with special talents. For instance, pink eyes aren't just great simply boiled and srved with butter and chopped herbs(the best way to eat them when they're new and their skin just rubs off) ; they also make delicious chips and buttery mash; while Kipflers are almost always best treated simply, eaten hot, as a vegetable, or cold, in salads, and Sebagos are all-rounders, making creamy mash, crisp chips and roasts, as well as being nice boiled(I guess one of the reasons why they're such a hardy standard)
But whatever you do with them, they are anything but dull!