What is it with me and vegetables of unfortunate appearance? A while back I shared with you the delicious-tasting but dubious-looking Native Finger lime and now I find myself unearthing Purple Congo potatoes. A bowl of the unwashed long, lumpy tubers looks as if I’ve been cleaning up not after a small dog, but a fully grown Rottweiler. Wow, these potatoes sure are butt-ugly!
But… of all the varieties (Kipfler, Nicola, Desiree) I planted in various spots around the garden, Purple Congo is the one that keeps on appearing, to the point I have to collect not only the large tubers but also the myriad tiny ones in a futile attempt to leave areas fallow and practise crop rotation (as others have discovered too at Adelaide Gardeners, and ABC Gardening Stories. Instead, up they pop again every year, still disease-free, unlike the white varieties in other areas. So if you do find some and decide to plant them in the garden, choose your location carefully because they will become a permanent fixture!
Purple Congoes may be ugly on the outside but, when you cut them open, they are the most beautiful rich purple hue. They’re difficult to peel when raw because they’re so knobbly, so do that after cooking, or rub off the skin. They’re also quite dry and floury, and taste horrible roasted, nor do they make great chips, but the little ones are delicious boiled or steamed for a few minutes and served with butter and parsley, or halved and made into potato salad – wash them thoroughly before cooking, no need to peel. And the purple skin and flesh are exceptionally high in antioxidant anthocyanins – great for your health.
Potatoes aren’t my favourite vegetable, but I adore pasta so this year made a large batch of gnocchi with 4.5 kg of the largest tubers. The same flouriness that makes Purple Congoes unpleasant when roasted is ideal for light, fluffy gnocchi. Gnocchi apparently freeze well, and purple ones are a novelty! The picture shows one tray left overnight before cooking; the gnocchi turn pale mauve when boiled. All kitchen gardeners who love cooking their produce as much as growing it will know how much fun I had!
Here are some recipes: Island Vittles; ABC Cook and the Chef; Masterchef. I tossed mine with garlic, button mushrooms, walnuts, asparagus and brown butter (tricolor!) sage, plus lemon zest and juice, topped with parmesan and lots of black pepper – yum!
And this video shows you how to roll them. Mine were vastly less consistent and pretty in shape but meh, whatever, they taste the same! For some reason, whatever recipe I’ve used in the past (with a little egg and flour), my gnocchi are always a bit too soft when boiled straight from fresh: their texture improves when cooked, tossed in a bit of olive oil, cooled, then reheated in the microwave, which will no doubt horrify all good Italian cooks (and if that’s you, I’d love your tips!).
The ones I left overnight to dry before cooking were perfect in texture, but the pigments discoloured a little on the underside where the gnocchi rested on the baking paper. Frozen gnocchi are apparently best thrown straight into boiling water and not thawed first, but I haven’t tried that yet, so we’ll see.
It’s always satisfying to discover yummy uses and to extend the harvest of vegies – solutions to the infamous Zucchini Glut, for example. If anyone has ways to store potatoes without a cellar, other than in the ground (mine resprout very soon after dying off in summer), I’d love to hear from you!