I can’t help myself — every time I think about purple potatoes, I instantly flash to the silly song Flying Purple People Eater. I can be childish, I admit it. We use to sing this song all the time when I was a kid … yes, back in the ancient times.
Fortunately, my purple potatoes are neither flying or people eating. On the contrary, they are a beautiful deep purple starch of Peruvian origin. I’ve used many types of potatoes over the years but never the purple variety, with both purple skin and flesh. In researching the spuds, I learned that the pigment in plants holds higher levels of antioxidants. Scientists published reports in the American Journal of Potato Research (yes, tuber research!) state the antioxidants in red and purple-fleshed potatoes exist in the flesh, as well as the skin and therefore may be better for you.
Granted, I purchased the purple potatoes for the upcoming Eating Leeds food blog event and knew nothing of the potential health benefits. The event is celebrating that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato and the main requirement is to explore a potato unknown to you. For me, it’s these purple-fleshed tubers.
Purple potatoes are known as being an all-purpose potato with a creamy, buttery texture which works well in gratins. I pulled out my favorite gratin recipe and got right to work. Actually, it’s not much of a recipe — basically, I make a bechamel sauce with a bit of cheese, then layer with potatoes and sauteed shallots (oh, and some bacon!). I do it by memory but have written down the proportions I use.
Purple Potato Gratin
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 lbs purple potatoes, unpeeled and sliced thinly
1 cup sliced shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 rashers bacon
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt/pepper to taste
To make the gratin sauce place the butter into a small pan and melt. Add flour and stir to combine, cooking over medium heat for about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and stir until thickened. Stir in cheese, when melted remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
In a frying pan, add the olive oil and shallots. Sautee until shallots are slightly brown and caramelized. Remove from the pan. Add bacon and cook until cooked through but not crispy (it will get crispy in a later portion of the recipe, don’t worry). Cut bacon into 1 inch pieces.
Grease a gratin dish or shallow baking dish. Add half of the sliced potatoes to the dish. Sprinkle the shallots over the potato layer. Add the remaining potato slices to the dish. Pour the gratin sauce over the top of the potatoes, spooning into any visible cracks and crevices. Top with parmesan cheese. As a final step, add the bacon over the top. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.
Well, I love this recipe, as always. The potatoes worked well and add their unique purple color to the dish. The potatoes retain their creamy texture without becoming mushy, and they bring a delicious potato flavor to the dish as well. I would definetly use them again — curious to see how they turn out in a mashed dish. I’ll admit that I shouldn’t be having any bacon, but since it’s sprinkled over the top I rationalized that it was acceptable. I did omit the parmesan this time to cut back on fat.
I made this in the afternoon yesterday and kept picking at it until dinner time. For a brief moment, I considered eating all the crispy bacon off the top before Joe came home — he wouldn’t have noticed and would never have known it had bacon on it. I resisted.