Friday, November 12, 2010
"You have to go to the potato store yourself," JR insisted, with me standing, petulant, in the kitchen, chouriço and onion all chopped up and ready to go.
"Why? Why can't you? I mean, you're right there," I whined back.
And he was. In the living room, glancing back at me over the island separating the living room from the kitchen, right next to the basement door. (Lest you envision a luxurious kitchen space at the mention of "island", I should be clear that "island" in our case is more accurately defined as "divider-with-drawers-and-a-couple-cabinet-like-storage-spaces" crafted out of cheap, yet darkly stained, plywood by the 1970s owners of our house. At least they sprung for cherry for the island countertops - that's saved us the hassle of renovating our 8 by 9-foot kitchen for years, thankyouverymuch.)
Down the stairs, just feet away from where JR stood, lay our stash of potatoes, the "potato store." From our harvest of 80 or so pounds, at least 70 remained. And JR wanted me to go down there and select them myself. Hello, audible groan.
Our house is over one hundred and sixty years old, so you might imagine that the basement is constructed of fieldstone, and you would be right. As such, it maintains a constant 58 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes the potatoes happy, and that, in turn, makes us happy. However, what doesn't make me so happy is the steep stairs, the poor lighting, and the bonanza of spiderwebs, all part of the potato store's rustic ambiance.
Still, JR was insistent, and finally I relented. But only after realizing that this was an I-go-to-the-potato-store-or-there's-no-hash-for-dinner situation. In response to my pouting as I passed by, JR handed me a paper lunch bag - or perhaps it was a beer bag - and pointed me to the door. About thirty seconds later, I yelled up the stairs to him, "This is cool!"
"Yes. It is cool," he responded. Hence, the adamant demand that I shop for the potatoes myself.
"This is really !@#$ing cool," I yelled again. You know. For emphasis.
Because shopping for small, hash-ready potatoes - from a table set up with 7 trays of potatoes, each one holding more than 10 pounds of spuds - in your own basement, cobwebs and all, is cool. I've got no better vocabulary word than that. And I do apologize. I'll try to do better next time.
Two European varieties of potato were planted in our potato patch this year: German butterball and La Ratte fingerling. The German butterball sounds like it's the Euro cousin of our American Yukon Golds, a good, all-purpose buttery-fleshed potato, while the fingerlings are described as commanding high prices both at the market and on restaurant menus.
It's nice to dodge the high prices that these potatoes apparently demand (this is, if ever we were able to find them at our local markets - perhaps during tomorrow's visit to the wintertime farmers market, I'll see the pricey bastards toppling out of bushel basket displays), particularly when the total cost for more organic seed potato than we could plant (we will prepare more area next year, believe me you) was around thirty dollars, including shipping. And for that small investment, we ended up with 80 pounds of potatoes stashed away for winter (you know how I like math here, so that's 37 and 1/2 cents per pound for organic, homegrown potatoes).
"Forget about pasta," a chef friend said to me a few weeks back, "unless it's gnocchi - you're set with starches for the whole winter."
Of course, there's no way that I can actually do away with egg-and-wheat-flour pasta during the winter, but I sense a lot more gnocchi on the menu here, starting, well, now. Or right after I'm over the hash fetish I'm currently riding out.
The potato patch got off to a somewhat late start (notice how I'm blaming the potato patch. This has nothing to do with the gardeners being at fault, of course), and the butterballs didn't fare as well as the fingerlings (though we do have plenty of baby butterballs - not a bad thing). The fingerlings could be characterized as, um, giant - some are 6-inches long, and could pass for slightly thinner-than-average russets, with smoother skin, of course - though there are a good number of tiny 1-inch long potatoes that work beautifully as-is, in dishes like hash. Keeps the chopping to a minimum, and, heck, they're just plain adorable.
Chouriço and Adorable Small Potato Hash (or you can use regular-sized potatoes. that's - ahem - cool, too.)
Serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds fingerling potatoes, well-washed, and cut into 1-inch cubes if they aren't tiny fingerlings
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 link mild chouriço (approximately 1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch pieces (Andouille sausage will work if you're unable to locate chouriço, and if you like spicy, by all means, go with spicy chouriço instead of the mild)
freshly ground black pepper
chopped parsley or chives
a dollop of sour cream per serving (I'll leave it to you to determine the size of the dollop - could be large, could be small.)
The other great thing about this dish is, it couldn't be easier. It takes 45 minutes or so, can be made in a cast iron skillet or a stainless saute pan (though I wouldn't use non-stick - you'll never get the browning you want in non-stick), and I'm thinking it would be a great change of pace from mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving.
Pour the olive oil into your trusty cast-iron skillet or "stick" saute pan, then add the butter, and warm over medium heat until the butter melts.
Give the melted butter and warmed olive oil a stir, then add the potatoes, stirring occasionally (we want browning, after all).
Twenty minutes into the potato-cooking time, add the onion. Stir that into the mix, and cook, stirring occasionally, for twenty more minutes - your onions will become very dark brown. Not to worry, this is what you want.
After that twenty minutes following the addition of the onions has passed, add the chouriço, stir it into the potato-onion mix, and cook just until the chouriço is heated through and is slightly browned, approximately 5 minutes. Chouriço is a pre-cooked sausage, so the goal here is to add its smoky flavor to the dish, and to warm the chouriço to serving temperature without drying it out.
Season the hash with salt and pepper, then serve the hash forth with a dollop - or four - of sour cream, chopped parsley or chopped chives, and start plotting your very own potato patch (they can be grown in trash cans, apartment and condo-dwellers).
Estimated cost for one batch of hash: $5.61. The olive oil costs 12-cents per tablespoon, so 36-cents. The butter costs 35-cents for 1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) Two pounds of potatoes should cost around 2 bucks, one medium onion should cost around 40-cents, chouriço costs $4.89 per pound where I live, and my one link has been costing $2.50 or thereabouts the last few times I've purchased it. So for around $1.40 per serving, you've got yourself a new smoky, sausage-y, potato-y side dish.