By: Charlie Nardozzi
Fingerling potatoes are turning up in the poshest places these days, such as the menus of some of the country's finest restaurants.
Why all the fuss? The answer includes the novelty of their small size; their moist, waxy or dry, mealy texture; and their sometimes striking colors, including purple. Fingerlings are ideal for roasting, particularly in the juices of other foods, and give cooks sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic variations on the potato theme. Also try parboiling and then grilling them, or use them in salads with fennel. Or simply dice and fry them and eat them as a snack food.
Going shopping for fingerlings? Better check your wallet. Their current price reflects the flashy company they keep. Though Idaho bakers are going for about $1 per pound, fingerlings are selling for two to four times that.
Of course home gardeners don't have to pay such fancy prices. Quite the contrary, fingerlings should be even cheaper because the plants are often more productive. For instance, 1 pound of seed potatoes of a full-sized type produces 8 to 12 pounds of tubers. But 1 pound of fingerling seed pieces will produce up to 20 pounds of fingerlings.
Fingerlings are (in the literal sense only) small potatoes. Sizes vary, but most are 1 to 2 inches in diameter and 2 to 3 inches long. One, 'Austrian Crescent', produces tubers that are 10 inches long. Presumably, a European farmer in the sixteenth century or so pulled up one of these plants and noticed that the long, narrow, dangling tubers resemble fingers, unlike the larger, fatter kinds that resemble apples.
The most famous potato in North America is a baking type. It's large and thick skinned, and has a dry, mealy texture that's suited to baking or mashing. Smaller, thin-skinned potatoes, which include the fingerlings, hold their shape better after cooking. These kinds are better suited to potato salads, boiling, and steaming.
Like all potatoes, fingerlings trace their roots (no pun intended) to the Andes mountains of Peru. Though the small, many-eyed, elongated fingerlings more closely resemble the wild potatoes of Peru, most are no closer to "wild" than ordinary, large baking and boiling potatoes. Two exceptions are 'Purple Peruvian' and 'Ozette', which can trace their heritage directly to Andean ancestors.
Fingerlings to Grow
Most varieties have red or yellow skin and yellow, waxy flesh. The two exceptions are the dry, mealy, purple-fleshed 'Purple Peruvian' and red-fleshed 'Red Thumb'. The following varieties are the most popular ones in garden catalogs. Sizes are approximate; fingerling tubers may vary widely in length.