Open many books about fresh vegetables and you will find a section in which the author laments about the commonality of the term "new potatoes." We've all seen new potatoes referred to on menus and in supermarkets across the country, but the truth is that what we find are rarely true new potatoes.
"Real new potatoes are harvested from the plant's trailing underground roots while the plant is still growing. They tend to be small and their skins are thin and flaky. They are prized for their fine, delicate flavor, so if you find them -- usually when the first early summer crop is still weeks from harvest ... nab them. I've never seen them sold anywhere but at the farmers' markets and roadside stands, but they may start appearing in specialty markets."
I smiled this week as I read in the CUESA Newsletter that Little Organic Farm would be returning to the market for a new season. Dave Little farms in Marin County and brings some of the best potatoes you'll ever have to our Bay Area Farmers' Markets. I buy his potatoes from the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market or the Sunday San Rafael market.
"This year's crop looks really good. The taste is going to be very good, though the drier spring may mean lower yields," says Dave Little about his potatoes. Little Organic Farm practices dry farming, a method of growing in which the farmer plants in wet soil and then does not typically add additional water to the crop as it grows. When potatoes are grown this way, the resultant product is a potato that is high in sugar content and wonderfully flavored. The potatoes have a lower water content and therefore a higher concentration of potato flavor. The trade-off is a very low crop yield. "Farmers who water their crops get a yield of 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of potatoes per acre. We're lucky to get 10,000 pounds," said Dave Little in a phone interview.
All of this potato goodness is made even better when you can buy new potatoes that have been freshly dug. The potatoes that Little had at the market this weekend had been hand dug on Friday and obviously had never been put into storage. If you get a chance to taste them, you will quickly understand why these potatoes are so prized among those of us who seek out new potatoes.
To celebrate the new potato harvest and in honor of the Fourth of July, I made a warm potato salad with bacon that was inspired by a recipe in this month's Gourmet magazine. The recipe seems to be very forgiving to changes. First of all, use your judgment with their suggested cooking time. I found 30 minutes to be too long, and pulled the potatoes out after about 20 minutes. While I followed the general idea of the recipe, I added shallots into the vinegar and tossed them with the warm potatoes because I didn't have chives. Then to add a bit of green in at the end, I chopped up some Ancho Cress -- a spicy green that I picked up this weekend from Marin Roots Farm.
The result was delicious, and a great way to show off the amazing flavor of new potatoes.