In April, I built potato boxes with a friend. He kept two, and I brought one home. The boxes, each one 4'x4', allegedly can grow up to 100 pounds of potatoes in a single season. This is the first year I've tried it, and it seems to be going well. You start with one 4-inch base, some potting soil and some seed potatoes, and you add soil and boards as the potato vines grow.
Over the course of the holiday weekend, my husband and I welcomed around 10 different people who came and went as they saw fit. It was wonderful — we sat on the deck, we drank wine and beer, we ate meat and celebrated America, I ripped up a few lettuce leaves and called it a salad.
The entertainment: Checking the lowest level of the potato box I built with a friend and finding a couple of little, teeny, tiny, baby new potatoes.
As open-ended gatherings tend to do, this one picked up a few more people than expected, which is always fine with me over a leisurely weekend. I did have to enhance our food offerings a little bit, though, in order to accommodate the influx.
Which brings us to this column. I have two recipes for you that are designed to keep summer fun going, but still be pretty impressive when tossed together. And I really wanted to make one of them potato-themed! Both of these recipes are easy in a pinch, and they're also communal. Serve them both on a tray (I presented late-night nachos because sometimes you need to) in a place where people can hover and snack together.
Quick roasted new potatoes tossed in garlic scape pesto
Because they are in season, and in anticipation of growing my own potatoes, I've been buying baby new potatoes wherever I can find them. I bought two pounds of potatoes this weekend and portioned them into four double-wrapped tinfoil packages, each with a little salt and about stick of butter. Because there was no set dinner time, I cooked them in stages.
Then, I tossed them in garlic scape pesto, which I made Saturday morning in the food processor and then froze when I was done.
Garlic Scape Pesto
Around 25 garlic scapes
A handful of walnuts
A handful of parmesan cheese, grated
2-3 neutral-tasting leafy greens — I used bok choy, but kale or chard or even lettuce works
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp lemon zest
Salt and pepper to taste
2-4 tbsp olive oil
Run pesto ingredients in food processor until smooth.
When potatoes are hot, toss ¼ cup pesto with ½ pound potatoes, and serve.
Black bean nachos
1 bag of tortilla chips
1 can of beans
2 tomatoes, diced
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off (or some frozen corn if necessary, but corn's cheap and in season right now)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Set oven to low broil. Scatter half the tortilla chips on a baking pan, then half the beans and cheese. Layer the rest of the chips, beans, cheese, then tomatoes and corn. Broil for 5-12 minutes. (It depends on your broiler. I think my oven runs cold.) Serve with hot sauce in a place where people can gather around.
how it works
Interested in making your own potato box? For step-by-step instructions, Google 'how-to make a potato box' for multiple options. But how does it work once you build the box?
• Prepare the soil at the base of the box. You can use your existing soil or potting soil, compost, or finely-chopped mulch can be added. Fill the "bottom two floors" with the mix, almost to the top edge of the frame.
• Plant the seed potatoes about 3"-4" deep, and cover with soil.
• When your potato plants are about a foot high, add another frame and fill it with more soil. Continue this process through the season, until the remaining frames have been added.
• To harvest, remove the bottom frame's boards to access the bottom layer of soil. When all of the potatoes have been removed from this level, replace the soil and reattach the boards. To harvest more potatoes, repeat those same steps with the second frame's boards. And so on, and so on, until you've reached the top frame.