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.