This is certainly the year of the potato in our garden. We grew three varieties, a red-skinned Caribe, fluffy and magnificent; Purple Majesty, which are all purple, making very unusual mashers but majestic roasters; and Purple Viking, a sort of tie-dye looking behemoth good for baking, mashing or frying, and pictured above.
The following recipe is adapted from my book, The Wild & Weedy Apothecary. The recipe is a good example of how the common potato can be transformed by the sweet aromatic flavor of fennel seed. The venerable Idaho Potato (a russet) is grown extensively in the southern part of the state as well as neighboring Washington, but this dish can be enjoyed no matter where you live. I sometimes use Yukon Gold potatoes, and will certainly use the Purple Vikings as well. Do not use red mashing potatoes, they fry up sticky. You will have to use your own judgment and experience on the heat level and amount of oil; I will give approximate amounts. I highly recommend using cast iron skillets. The amount of herbs specified is light-handed; I usually use more.
Famous Potatoes with Cheddar and Two Seeds
4 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed ½-inch
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
¼ teaspoon whole anise seed
¼ teaspoon dried oregano or tarragon or both
salt and pepper
½ -1 cup grated cheddar cheese (or mozzarella or both)
cooking oil
In a large cast iron skillet or other heavy frying pan, over medium heat, sauté onion in about 1 teaspoon oil. After they soften, remove from skillet and set aside; wipe out the skillet, then add about 2 teaspoons oil. Return to medium high heat – the oil should begin to shimmer in the skillet – then add the potatoes, turning to coat in the oil. Fry them up a few minutes to get a crisp going, then cover and turn heat to medium-low, and cook for about 15 minutes. (It’s important not to use too much oil, but to use enough; I wish I could give you an exact amount, but this is something you’ll have to experience.)
In the meantime, take the fennel and anise seeds and crush them with a mortar and pestle.
(You say you don’t have one? Try a flat rock base with a round rock crusher. Or put the seeds in a plastic bag and crush then with a hammer on the cutting board. Or leave the seeds whole. Don’t get too worked up over it.)
Gently crush the oregano and sprinkle the seasonings, including the seeds, salt and pepper, over the potatoes. Cover again and cook until the potatoes are done, about 15-20 minutes. Remove lid, turn up the heat a little, return the onions to the skillet, and brown the potatoes. Turn once to brown the other side. When nice and crisp, sprinkle with the grated cheese, cover and turn off the heat. When cheese is melted, about 5 minutes, serve to those whose appetites were stimulated by the fantastic aroma. If you toss in ¼ cup sunflower seeds, the recipe will be more “protein-correct” and suitable to serve as a meatless main dish. In any case, there will probably be no leftovers.
As Emeril Lagasse would suggest, too bad there’s no such thing as smellevision!
Fennel seed