Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Creamed New Potatoes and English Peas
New potatoes showed up at the farmers' market the week before last. Real new potatoes--the ones sold in the store as "new potatoes" are just miniature potatoes. True new potatoes are potatoes that have been freshly dug. Alice Waters in her vegetable book adds that they are technically immature—harvested while the potato plants still have green foliage and before the skins have hardened. You will recognize them at the market because their skin looks a bit translucent and is peeling or flaking away in spots. When you prepare them, the skins will literally come off with a little gentle rubbing.
Most of the time I am not a fan of boiled or steamed potatoes. But this is the way I like new potatoes the best. They don't fall apart when cooked this way and their hard flesh doesn't seem to absorb a lot of water. This method allows their delicate flavor to come through. Simply cooked, they are also best simply dressed—a drizzle of a fragrant olive oil, a film of melted butter or a blanket of heavy cream or crème fraiche along with a few herbs is just about perfect.
Last week the English peas arrived. English peas have a fleeting season here in the Midwest because of the early onset of summer heat. But during the short span of time that new potatoes and shelling peas are at the market at the same time, I have to prepare creamed new potatoes and peas at least once.
A preparation so ridiculously simple that it doesn't require a recipe, it is one of the finer things to sit down to in early summer. To prepare it, scrub the new potatoes well. Don't worry about the skin that remains after scrubbing—it is very tender. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water by about an inch. Salt the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the water maintains a gentle simmer and cook until the potatoes are just tender—10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle.
While the potatoes cool, place the shelled peas in a sauce pan with some heavy cream and some salt. Bring the cream to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender—just a few minutes for freshly picked or market fresh peas.
If the peas are large and a little starchy, they will take longer to cook. You will need to regulate the simmer according to how long the peas will have to cook—if the peas are very tender and sweet, cook at a brisk simmer so that the cream will reduce quickly. If they are large and a bit starchy, cook at a slow, gentle simmer so that the cream will not over reduce by the time the peas are cooked. The cream should thicken just enough to coat the potatoes and peas in a fluid blanket. The starch from the potatoes will thicken the cream some more, so it's better to err on the side of under rather than over reducing the cream.
Slice (or cube) the potatoes
and add them to the peas and cream. Heat the potatoes through, simmering briefly if the cream needs to be reduced a bit more. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add some minced fresh chives if you like.
For two of us, I used 12 oz. of potatoes, 3/4 cup shelled peas and 2/3 cup heavy cream—but this was easily enough to serve three.
Creamed new potatoes and peas would be good served with just about anything, but for some reason it seems a particularly appropriate dish to serve with roast chicken. To me, new potatoes, peas, cream and chicken seem like the makings of the quintessential early summer meal on a Midwestern family farm—all readily accessible and very good with little adornment.
For our roast chicken, I roasted a large (10 to 12 oz.) single breast. I slid some thinly sliced green garlic and picked thyme under the skin
and then carefully browned it in some olive oil and butter. I finished it in a 375° oven, adding a splash of white wine to the pan about 10 minutes before it was done. The total time in the oven was about 20 to 25 minutes—but this will depend on the size of the chicken breast that you use. I like to take my chicken breasts out of the oven when an instant read thermometer reads about 155°. The temperature will easily increase to the necessary 160° as the chicken rests. The pan drippings with the addition of the resting juices made a nice sauce. With the inclusion of some of the first ripe tomatoes of the summer, we had a perfect early summer meal.