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Potatoes and chimichurri

No matter which kind of chimichurri you try, it will pair well with these baked potatoes that are crispy on the outside and nearly molten on the inside.

This time of year, I like to ask my vegetable farmer friends what they are making for dinner. These hardworking producers are the supreme authorities on how best to use produce, and each meal is an opportunity both to enjoy the harvest and to get rid of surplus.

One friend feeds a large hungry table of family and farmhands every night. As a farmer, he's thrifty, has no time and must quickly whip up a dinner that contains as much free food (produce) as possible. This is why I love farmer recipes, because they are a recipe for satisfying, veggie-centered food.

That evening's menu, he told me on the phone, would include massaged kale salad, cucumber feta salad, a bacon plate and roasted potatoes with chimichurri.

Perhaps the platter of bacon from homegrown pigs caught your attention, and deservedly so, but it was that last entry, chimichurried roast potatoes, that excited us both. He was excited because of a potato trick he'd learned from a fellow farmer that he wanted to share, and I was excited because of chimichurri — and farmer chimichurri no less, which promised to be a delicious way to eat lots of parsley.

I’ve since confirmed that his potatoes, which are golden on the outside and puffy like tater tots on the inside, are indeed something with that famous Argentine condiment and marinade. In addition to parsley, it contains olive oil, garlic, salt, vinegar and other herbs like oregano. These rather pedestrian ingredients team up to cover nearly all of the flavor bases — salt, bitter, sour, umami, fat and heat — with the only exception being sweetness. Chimichurri is a sauce for those who don't mind it rough, or an occasional burst of adrenaline at the table. Compared to the cloying homogeneity of ketchup or the smooth, yearning mediocrity of ranch dressing, chimichurri is a salty bareback ride across the Pampas.

While most chimichurri is green, it has a lesser-known relative in red chimichurri, which contains ripe tomatoes and peppers, while green does not. My farmer friend’s dish had green chimichurri, with added cilantro. I, however, was intrigued by the idea of red on potatoes. And with tomato season upon us, it seemed like all the more reason to savor that side of chimichurri while it's at its best.

The red and green sides of chimichurri recall those two hues in other great condiments, like the New Mexican chile or Mexican hot sauce. But the red and green historical parallels to chimichurri that stand out to me are the Italian red and white clam sauces, so beloved by pasta enthusiasts. The so-called “white” version is actually green, and like chimichurri, both red and white clam sauces are parsley-based. The rest of the ingredients in the two sauces are similar as well, which is probably no coincidence. The Italian population in Argentina is large, and its influence is strong. Argentine chimichurri, thus, is a New World evolution of a Mediterranean invention.

Regardless of its origins, when you have chimichurri, you find yourself looking for things to put it on, or in. Marinate meat in it, stir it into beaten eggs before scrambling, toss it into salad, or a bowl of linguine.

Or better yet, put it on potatoes that have been soaked and roasted, farmer-style.

Whichever flavor and hue of chimichurri you ultimately concoct, the next day it will be even better, and the world will be yours to explore through the lens of chimichurri. You will cover a lot of miles before the ride is through. And you will eat a lot of parsley.

Farmer's table chimichurried potatoes

Cut potatoes to inch-chunks or thereabouts, and soak in cold water for an hour. For a recent batch (pictured), I soaked thickly sliced purple carrots as well, which are more earthy and bitter than sweet carrots, and great for cooking.

Let the roots soak for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, make some chimichurri (see other recipe).

Turn the oven to 415 degrees Fahrenheit. Drain the potatoes, add them to a baking pan, and toss with olive oil, salt, garlic powder and a little black pepper. It doesn't matter that the potatoes are wet at first; they will dry off. The carrots behave similarly to the potatoes, developing exterior crisp and molten interiors. Toss with the chimichurri of your choice and serve.

And here are some chimichurri recipes. The first comes from my Argentine friend Diego Grant, owner of Gauchito Catering in Albuquerque. His buddy brought this chimichurri to my birthday party eight years ago, and my wife still hasn't gotten over it.

Gauchito chimichurri

1 bush flat leaf parsley

1 head of garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

"All together, chop,” he instructs. "Then …"

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

"After that, let rest all together for 15 minutes. When you have the flavors out, add …"

1/2 cup oregano

1/2 cup red chile flakes

You have now made chimichurri verde. To make it roja, add chopped tomatoes.

Blender churri

Dissolve one teaspoon of coarse salt into a half-cup of water. Set aside.

Chop a head of garlic, two cups fresh parsley and 1/4 cup fresh (or dried; the same amount works fine) oregano or marjoram, and add it all to a blender, along with 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper.

Blend. Then add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and then 1/2 cup olive oil. Finally, blend in the salt water. To make a red version, add tomatoes, but don’t over-blend it to a pink sludge. Visible tomato chunks should remain.

Chimichurraise, or farmerchurri

Is it any surprise that combining mayonnaise with chimichurri further improves the potatoes, or anything else to which you might add it? I mean, what's not to love about two of the greatest condiments in the world combining to make something greater than the sum of their parts?

This culinary fact certainly wasn’t lost on my farmer friend:

Garlic

Parsley

Vinegar

Salt

And, in addition to those usual suspects, he added cilantro and mayonnaise. Because farmers know how the game is played.

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Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column carried in more than 60 newspapers nationwide. Though his audience is national, he says he "always writes about Montana. Usually."

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