Colorful Spuds That Taste Terrific

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One Potato, Two Potato

Recently, Peruvian purple sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) have hit the marketplace hard. It’s kind of amazing to notice that even big chain stores now carry these heritage tubers. Admittedly homely, purple sweet potatoes at their best look like they’ve been sitting around for a while and maybe dropped a few times. When aging, they look like something the cat dragged in. However, they taste fabulous, especially when roasted, when they become crispy and caramelized on the outside and meltingly sweet on the inside. The mesh of starchy-sticky-mealy-sweet reminds me of old fashioned dried dates, with their slightly crusty skins and soft, almost spreadable innerds.

Sweet potatoes and “plain” potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) have been farmed in some manner or other for around 8,000 years in Peru, so it’s not too surprising that Peru should be the birthplace of many of the colorful, and flavorful potatoes we enjoy today. Most of the 180+ wild potato species are found in Peru and Brazil, and Peru is home to several thousand potato varieties, both sweet and starchy. I look forward to seeing more of them, now that the purple pair have been so warmly received by American cooks.

A Pleasing Partnership

Over the holidays, I’ve been roasting sweet potatoes with raw cranberries. It’s a very happy combination, as the roasting mellows the cranberries without removing their tangy bite entirely.

Roasted Purple Peruvian Sweet Potatoes
With Fresh Cranberries

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 medium purple sweet potatoes,
peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 cups fresh, firm cranberries, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour oil into a rimmed baking sheet, then add sliced sweet potatoes and cranberries and gently coat with oil (I use my hands, but a spatula works too). Sprinkle with salt and roast at 350 F for 30 minutes. Flip potato slices with tongs or a spatula and roast for another 20-30 minutes, until well caramelized. Serve warm. Serves 4 (maybe).

Another Amazing Heritage Potato

One of my favorite heritage potatoes, now called Ozette, is a fingerling that was grown by roving Spanish conquistadores in what is currently Washington state. When the Spaniards left, several hundred years ago, the Makah Nation First People harvested the abandoned crop and have grown it ever since.

It has a rich, nutty flavor that needs almost nothing in the way of seasoning; don’t add butter, just a tad of sea salt and prepare to be amazed. I first tasted potatoes this rich  in Costa Rica, where many varieties are grown because they taste great, not because they look uniform and store and ship well. It was a revelation, and I’m delighted that more innately delicious potatoes are finally reaching our markets and kitchens.

Ozette Potato Salad

2 pounds Ozette fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup parsley, stemmed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a rimmed baking sheet, combine 1 tablespoon oil with the potatoes and bake at 350 until tender (20-30 minutes). Meanwhile, combine remaining oil with lemon zest, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and half the salt and pepper, set aside. When tender, chop potatoes and toss with dressing and parsley, and sprinkle with remaining seasonings to taste. Serve warm. Serves 4-6.

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