It is at this time in the growing season that I am seeing those to-die-for potatoes, which come in all shapes, sizes and colors. . There is nothing like eating a potato fresh from the dirt which has been boiled, and slathered in butter with a splash of coarse salt. When I was growing up and it was close to dinnertime and everyone was clammering to be fed, my mother would throw each of us a potato to keep us at bay while she tried to get our meal on the table. It worked every time.
Just the other day my friends told me about some fabulous documentary they watched called The Botany of Desire (based on a book by Michael Pollan) on TV the other night. The book (and consequently the documentary) explores the relationship between humans and plants, and how it has evolved.
The potato (and being from Ireland, a vegetable very close to my heart) was touted as being so rich in the nutrients that humans need, it was responsible for massive population expansion. Pollan went on to say that in fact a human being could exist on potatoes and raw milk for an entire lifetime. What happened in Ireland in the mid 1800’s then? Well apparently, only 1 strain of the tuber was grown and eaten since the mid 16th century, the “lumper” and, when blight disease took hold of it, and turned the crop to a black mush within weeks, the people had no other variety growing to fall back on? I have put this book on the top of my ever-growing reading list to study his theory in more depth (after all, there are many other sound ideas out there as to why Ireland’s population was halved in the late 1840’s)
I am lucky to live in a place and time where I can find great tasting potatoes. Potatoes do not need a lot of space or great soil to thrive. A very small patch of ground can yield mounds of potatoes and they keep for a long time if stored correctly. My uncle told me when he was young (Ireland in the 1940’s & 5o’s) he and my father would dig a hole, fill it with potatoes and then pile the earth on top in such a way as to help control the temperature, keeping the potatoes from going bad, and sustaining the family for the entire winter. I don’t know how well this worked, and nowadays, since I live in a place where good potatoes are readily available most of the year, I’m not inclined to go to that much trouble to find out.
I haven’t even made a dent in expressing how I feel about this vegetable, but suffice is to say at this time, I love potatoes, their history, and the part they played in my formative years!
I usually cook a dish like this and serve it with pasta, but this time, I used a beautiful yellow baby potato, and everything tasted spectacular together. The lemony broth with a hint of the ocean, mixed with the creamy sweetness of the potatoes, was a taste combination I will yearn for again and again.
You will need: 1lb squid tentacles, 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 mild jalapeno pepper, 20 lemon basil leaves, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes, 3/4 cup white wine, 2/3 cups chicken or veggie broth, 2-3 lbs baby potatoes (depending on how many you want), 4-6 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed (no need to dry), coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
1 – Put potatoes in pot and cover with cold water. Put pot on stove-top and when water comes to a boil, turn the heat down very slightly, cover and boil potatoes until cooked. Test by either sticking a knife into the center of a potato or taking a potato out of the pot and slicing in half. If the knife goes through easily, they are cooked. Drain and set aside in colander until ready to use.
2 – Put a big saute pan on low/medium heat and add oil. When it has warmed, add the garlic and sliced jalapeno pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
3 – Turn heat up to medium and add the squid. Saute for 3 minutes before adding the liquids. Heat everything until it begins to simmer and add the lemon basil. Cover and simmer very gently for 40 minutes or until the squid is tender (eat a piece to test). Taste broth and add salt and pepper at this point if you feel it needs it.
4 – Add the potatoes and continue to cook until the potatoes have warmed up.
5 – Add the spinach in an even layer over the top, cover and let it wilt into the broth (about 3 or 4 minutes). Take lid off and give everything a stir.
Serve in warmed bowls or shallow plates.