These are kind of like french fries except one, they aren’t fried, and two, I am choosing not to give the French credit for them. There is no political or historical reasoning behind that decision.
This is not because only a generation and a half ago, basically after two gunshots, the French exchanged their Hermes scarves for more modern-chic swastika armbands, laid out a red carpet for the Nazis to come and ship off their Jews and then cried victim. I understand that. It was tough times and everybody knows the French are a sensitive people. And very artistic too.
Nor is it because they are too pussé to show any support for Israel, for fear of upsetting their large and growing Muslim population. As the only democracy in the Middle East, they need Israel to thrive as much as we do. How the French love to stridently declare that they are not an anti-Semitic country, even though violence against Jews and synagogues has been growing rampantly in the last decade without nearly enough government response. Please. None of that has to do with potatoes.
It’s that I just happened to come back from an art opening where I had a chance to talk to some Italian women friends and tell them what I was preparing for my first ever Hot Summer Tuscan Nights Cooking Class for Couples. I was, of course, looking for their approval. Barbara was in fact from Tuscany, so I was particularly concerned that she compliment me on my cooking. I passionately described this potato concoction and then asked for their advice on naming them. “They are basically french fries,” I inadvertently muttered. The faces of these two strikingly gorgeous Italian women went sour immediately. “Noooo, not French! Don’t call them FRENCH fries,” they retorted.
The rivalry between the French and the Italians makes me laugh. It’s clear whose side I take and I do not pretend that I did not LOVE walking into the French Market Cafe in Venice, California as if nothing, secretly gloating, the day after the Azzurri kicked French ass at the World Cup Finals 2008...even if it was only because some punk of an Italian player whispered to the superstar and captain Zidane that his sister was a whore, provoking Zidane’s ire, who then responded with a head-butt and was thrown out of the rest of the game! Italians are no show for sportsmanship and in all honesty their politics are not much better than the French, past or present.
Let the French and the Italians fight over who were bigger fascists in the forties, who is more accepting of their Muslim and other immigrant communities, who makes better wine, who makes better cheese, who makes better love and which women are more beautiful. I don’t care. But the fact is: THE ITALIANS COOK BETTER. And so these un-fried, un-French potatoes have been lovingly named after the peninsula that has always loved me back.
Italia, ti amo.
- Russet Potatoes, washed, peels ON (figure 1 potato for 2 people)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (per potato)
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary (per potato)
- 1 scant teaspoon salt (per potato)
- 15 grinds of the pepper mill (per potato)
- extra virgin olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per potato)
- parchment paper
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Slice potatoes lengthwise into ¼ inch to ½ inch slices.
- Stack the slices on top of one another and slice in the other direction to make them ¼ inch or ½ inch wide. Its OK if they aren’t perfect. The smaller ones will get crispier and the larger ones will be heartier. It’s a good mix.
- Place potatoes on baking sheet.
- Add olive oil, enough to liberally cover all the potatoes.
- Add herbs, salt and pepper.
- Use your fingers and mix it all together so the potatoes are well coated.
- Lick your fingers. The taste should be on the herb-y, salty, peppery side as flavor tends to burn off in the oven a bit. If the flavor has no kick on your finger, add more salt and the rest.
- Place potatoes on lined baking sheet in a single layer.
- Bake for 15-25 minutes, checking after 12 minutes to see if they need to be flipped or shaken up and then again 5 minutes later, etc. Baking time will depend on size of potatoes and your oven. You want them browned!
- Salt and Pepper Potato Sticks: Follow the same process but just add generous salt and freshly ground pepper, omitting the herbs. They are equally good and pair well with a chicken or meat that has been made with lots of herbs.
- Fresh Herb Tossed Salt and Pepper Potato Sticks: The beauty of herbs is that they not only aid digestion, but they also “cool” other food down. To get the true beauty of this effect be sure your potatoes have been salted and peppered well before adding these cooling herbs. After the Salt and Pepper Potato Sticks have come out of the oven, golden and crunchy, toss them with with: