Purple potatoes

Peruvian natives now in Tuscany, too

Helen Farrell
February 2, 2018 - 18:05

Forgive me while I wax lyrical about purple potatoes—again. One lunchtime, my excitement at this tubular discovery resulted in my foisting violet mash on The Florentine’s team at our usually laid-back communal table.

A native of the Peruvian Andes, the vitelotte noire have sunken their roots into Tuscan soil, in the Casentino. Oblong and knobbly, they are also lauded as the truffle potato. A primitive potato variety, the violet peel and interior are caused by high levels of anthocyanins, and the fabulous thing is that the colour remains, if a little diminished, when cooked. The taste is not unlike chestnuts with a sweetish flavour and a lingeringly lovely hazelnut aftertaste. Plus, research has shown that the purple potato is good for us, its antioxidants fighting free radicals and providing a helping hand against heart conditions as well as being low in calories.

The French author Alexandre Dumas, who incidentally dedicated a book to Florence after living in the city for a year in 1835, was a big fan of purple potatoes, describing them in his posthumous 1873 Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine: “The best of all potatoes are undoubtedly the purple ones, known at Paris’ Les Halles market by the name vitelotte.”

This vibrant spud is having a moment on the restaurant scene too. The “Below Zero” dish by Michelin-star chef Peter Brunel at Borgo San Jacopo sees the purple potato served with yogurt, coconut, mango and caviar, while El Inca Peruvian restaurant in the Gavinana neighbourhood serves its native tuber as gnocchi and as a side order to its hearty meat-based main courses.

The floury texture makes the purple potato perfect for gnocchi—and the shade ideal for Fiorentina fans.




Purple potato gnocchi with sage butter  

Serves 4



1kg purple potatoes (I used the Blue Salad variety from Casentino,  available from Esselunga)

300g all-purpose flour, preferably “00”, sifted

1 medium egg, lightly beaten

20 g butter

2 sage leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper



Boil the potatoes with the skin on for about 30 minutes until tender. Set aside to cool, then remove the peel and mash well.

Add the flour, egg and salt and mix with your hands to form a firm dough. Roll into a thin sausage on a well-floured work surface and flatten slightly. Cut into small oblongs, using the tines of a fork to leave a pattern on the surface of each gnocco. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the gnocchi and cook until they rise, one by one, to the surface. Drain well.

Melt the butter with a couple of sage leaves in a small frying pan over low heat. Stir the sage butter into the gnocchi. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Wine pairing

Alto Adige is my go-to region when it comes to lighter reds that spare nothing on the nose. A Schiava and Lagrein blend from near Bolzano, H. Lun’s St. Magdalener 2016 comes up smelling like violets (!) with nutty nuances. Or come back to Casentino for Cuna 2013 by Podere Santa Felicita for a sky-high, acid-high, freshest of tannins and longest of finishes Pinot Noir. A wine to write home about—you’ll swiftly forget the purple potatoes.

Keep in touch with the TF Wine Club: info@theflorentinepress.com

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