Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photographs and Potatoes- Both Heirloom

Potatoes have been a part of my family's Sunday dinners for generations, but they were also a "work-a-day" food, as my grandmother would have said.  For her, this would have meant a food that was easily prepared during the work week.  Nothing special, just what we could call an "everyday food".  My family only eats potatoes once every few weeks and until now I've never thought about why I don't cook potatoes more often.  I suppose it's because some of the most delicious ways to eat potatoes aren't exactly the most figure-friendly and I only like boiled potatoes when the potatoes are really good.
My great-grandparents, Claude and Maude Phillips, sorting potatoes.  Photographer and date unknown.
My father's potato harvest, July 13, 2010.
When I was growing up, we ate potatoes boiled, mashed, deep fried (as in french fried), baked, and pan fried in a cast iron skillet.  During potato season, my family ate mostly "new potatoes", meaning small, young potatoes with thin skins.  We ate them boiled until soft and creamy and eaten with copious amounts of salt, pepper and butter.  This is still one of my favorite ways to eat potatoes.

The first summer I was home from college I ate almost nothing but boiled potatoes and green beans.   I just couldn't get enough of them.  Maybe it was because I was sick of all the cafeteria food I ate at college.  I'm not sure.  I do remember that I didn't eat green beans or potatoes for several years after that.

My father still grows lots of potatoes in his garden each year.  This year he dug up four bushels-- one bushel of red potatoes (Pontiacs) and three bushels of white potatoes (Kennebecs).  He told me that both sets of my grandparents grew Kennebecs in their gardens and I suspect that it is Kennebecs we see in the photograph of my great-grandparents sorting potatoes.

Recently, I at a delicious bean and potato dish at the home of my friends Lisa and Louis.  It was an afterthought to the meal they had planned to serve and we only had this dish because it was leftover from breakfast.  Yep, you heard me right.  Louis loves eating beans and potatoes for breakfast.  But the beans we ate were no everyday bean.   They were special Calabrian beans that his family has been growing for generations.  I loved this dish so much that I decided to create an homage to their very special heirloom bean and potato dish, but as a "work-a-day" recipe.  Lisa and Louis ate "beans and potatoes".  Without the special Calabrian beans, it makes more sense to call this "potatoes with beans".  Either way, it's delicious.

You could also make this recipe with green beans, although you might have to adjust the cooking times of both the beans and the potatoes depending on how soft you like your green beans.  (I'd suggest cooking the potatoes for less time in the beginning and adding more cooking time to the bean/potato steam time.)

This is the kind of dish that I could eat as a main course, but most people would probably serve it as a side dish.  And I have to admit, I could eat it every day.  At least for a summer.

Potatoes and Beans
serves 4 to 6 people as side dish

3 medium sized white potatoes, about 1 pound (Do not use baking potatoes as they are too starchy.)
1 pound of Italian pole beans or other green bean
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or run through a garlic press
10 fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped into small pieces
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional


  • Peel potatoes and slice into 1/4 inch thick circular slices 
  • Steam potatoes until they start to get soft, approximately 8-10 minutes
  • In the meantime, wash beans and trim off the stems.
  • When potatoes are soft, add beans to the steamer and cook for 10 additional minutes.
  • While beans and potatoes cook, get out a large bowl and add olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.
  • When beans are soft, add bean and potato mixture to bowl and stir while the mixture is still hot.  The potatoes should be falling apart.  (I know this seems a little weird, but it's delicious.)
  • Sprinkle chopped basil on top.  If desired, you could also add a pinch of crushed red pepper.

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