Of the many cool vegetables grown by relatively new farm Turnip the Beet, the ‘Ozette Fingerling’ potato must top the list. Rush over to the farm tomorrow at the Lane County Farmers Market to see if Farmers Lela and John have any of these big fat fingerlings left. Locavores won’t regret it. Last Saturday, Lela told me that they might have them for another week.
On that very day, when I was trying and failing to blow through the market just to get a few things, I was stopped by a very excited anthropologist who told me that the Ozette, grown by the Makah people of what is now the tippiest tip of northwest Washington for centuries, was available for sale.
The Ozette is a potato that came up the coast from the Andes, I was informed dramatically, bypassing Europe altogether! Unlike most potatoes that were collected in Peru and environs by the Spanish and colonized back in the Old World, then returned to America, the Ozette had been left behind by Spanish colonists. They had decided the Makah area around Neah Bay wasn’t a good port, so they left their settlement behind. The Makah people, who seem like a sensible lot, saved the potatoes from the garden, named them after a local island, and planted and cherished them for generations.
The potato looks like a long, fat oca, if you know that Andean root from your travels to Peru or New Zealand. It’s bumpier and creamier and smoother than a standard fingerling. When baked, the potato becomes dense but still floury, like a Russet on steroids. And the flavor is nutty and rich. It makes an absolutely delicious soup because of the starch content, and doesn’t need butter if you bake or mash it. I still have a couple left I’d like to fry. My guess is that they’ll be terrific latkes for Thanksgivukkah this year, if they last in the fridge or cellar that long.
If you’re interested in the history of this singular Pacific Northwesterner, check out Gary Nabhan’s Renewing America’s Food Traditions. You can also read about Slow Food’s presidium (scroll down) Ozette project and the details of the Ozette’s development and commercialization as a seed potato. There’s a great video featuring narration from a Makah woman about Native farming and naming the Ozette that was produced by the Seattle area restaurant/farm The HerbFarm, one of the first non-Makah Nation concerns to grow the potato. The Ozette’s entry in the Slow Food Ark of Taste is here.
The Ozette made me a wonderful vegetarian soup this week with some leftover corncob broth I had from prepping my Bodacious corn for freezing for the year. It’s fine to substitute water, but the corn added a snappy note to the potatoes and cauliflower. I’d strongly recommend it. Corn broth freezes beautifully. I love potato soup, and think it never needs added bacon or pancetta, but if you wanted to gild the lily…
Ozette Potato Cauliflower Soup with Corn Broth
- 6 cups corn cob stock
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 t. unsalted butter
- 2 cups cauliflower, broken into florets
- 3 cups potatoes cut in 2-inch chunks, preferably Ozette but ok to substitute 1/2 Russet and 1/2 Yukon Gold
- 1 carrot, peeled
- fresh thyme
- salt and white pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
Make your corn cob stock by simmering six denuded cobs in heavily salted water for about 20 minutes, then remove cobs. Or use chicken stock or water. Saute onion until golden brown. Add onion, cauliflower, potato, and carrot to the corn broth, and cook until soft. Taste and add salt and white pepper to your liking. Mash vegetables, then blend with a hand blender until smooth. Alternatively, use chinois to mill soup smooth. Add fresh thyme and buttermilk and simmer on the lowest heat for a couple of minutes to blend flavors, then serve.