Friday, April 6, 2012

Blue Cheese and Red Potato Tart

Michael Pollan writes an awful lot about potatoes. They play a central role in his book "The Botany of Desire," which traces the evolution of four plants and examines how they've adapted to meet our basic needs.

He found that growing potatoes affords humans some control over the unpredictable mess of farming. It's a plant that's so nutrient rich that entire civilizations have thrived because of it.

However, with the proliferation of the potato came the first monocultures, where farmers filled entire fields with just one trusty potato variety. Some years they were rewarded with healthy yields. However, when crops suffered under a monoculture system, entire societies were decimated.

Farmers today, as a whole, seem not to have learned much from the Irish example. Driven by industry leaders such as McDonald's, many continue to plant monocultures of potato plants. Here the solution to disease is genetic engineering and specially targeted chemicals, not sustainable growing techniques and the use of a diversity of crops.

Still, blaming the potato seems a bit misguided in this situation.

And giving up on the potato does too. I have days where I just crave potatoes in any form. I can't seem to go out for breakfast without ordering hash downs, with their perfect combination of potato, butter and salt.

So instead of abandoning potatoes, I've tried to celebrate them. No, not those Russet Burbanks that are the perfect size for the french fry machine. I'm talking about the beautiful little lumpy red ones that arrive at the farmers' market freshly dug from the fields.

Yes, it does means that my concentric circles aren't all exactly even because the width of my slices varied. But they're the potatoes worth celebrating because of the sustainable way they're produced.

Oh yeah, and because they're really delicious baked in a tart topped with blue cheese too.

Blue Cheese and Red Potato Tart
recipe adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

Tart Shell:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cold and diced
1 large egg

1 pound small red potatoes, well-cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
1/4 pound blue cheese
Freshly ground pepper

Prepare the tart shell: In the bowl of a food processor, mix flour, cornstarch and salt. Pulse quickly two to three times to combine. Add the diced butter and process with 4 to 5 quick pulses. Add one egg, and process continuously for about 30 seconds, until the dough begins to come together in chunks.

Pat the dough together on the counter, and refrigerate until needed. Roll out and place in a 9-inch tart pan.

Prepare the tart: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place potato slices in a llarge saucepan, and cover with water. Simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes.

Arrange the potato slices, overlapping them as you go, so they form circles around the tart pan. Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese over the potato slices. Whisk the cream and egg together, and pour the mixture over the potatoes. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.

Bake the tart on a baking sheet until it is golden and bubbly, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool the tart on a wire rack. This tart can be served warm or cool.


  1. great background info and wonderful recipe for potato lovers!

  2. Ooh, I -love- potatoes. Any kind, any way you prepare them. And I've recently developed a taste for blue cheese as well. This recipe is going to the top of my to-make list!

    1. I'm newer to blue cheese too, but I'm excited to start experimenting with it. I definitely feel like a little bit goes a long way.

  3. I definitely have potato cravings...they're such a great starch! I love the idea of pairing them with blue cheese. The tang must really wake up the potato flavor!

    1. I think that tang makes a difference with the potatoes. They don't seem quite as dense and one-note as they do in dishes like mashed potatoes.

  4. Blaming the farmers in this situation is a bit misguided, too.

    1. I certainly agree. The American agricultural system is nothing if not complex, and farmers are certainly trying to do the best they can.