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Home with the Lost Italian: Rosemary smashed potatoes even better with Buxton's Best

Buxton, N.D., potatoes are used in this recipe for Smashed Potatoes. DAVE WALLIS | Forum news service

BUXTON, N.D. -- Can you keep a secret? We hate to be indiscreet, but we've stumbled upon a food secret so good it would be a pity not to share it. We have found a source for some of the best potatoes we've ever eaten, and it's located only 55 miles north of Fargo, in the bustling town of Buxton, N.D.

This is the kind of secret that is well-known to locals and other folks-in-the-know, like our farming friend, Jennifer Kohls of Mayville, N.D., who is responsible for introducing us to these spectacular spuds.

When we met Jen last June, she was curious to know if we'd ever tried the potatoes from Buxton. Upon hearing that we hadn't and didn't even know about them, she promised to get us a 50-pound bag as soon as they were ready in the fall.

Last month, true to her word, Jen arranged for us to pick up a large sack of beautiful red potatoes from the NoKota Packers potato plant in Buxton. We were grateful, and couldn't help but wonder: Was it really worth it to drive for two hours, just for potatoes?

Yes, as it turns out, it was, and we made the trip again just last Thursday. I called NoKota Packers to tell them how much we enjoyed their potatoes and to find out more about what makes them so special. I was connected immediately to Carissa Olsen, director of operations, who graciously answered my questions and, when I asked her if it would be possible to come and tour the plant sometime, she replied that we could stop in anytime. "Even later today?" I asked, and she said again, "Anytime is fine."

So Gio, Tony and I hopped in our car and drove north up Interstate 29, and one hour later we were entering NoKota Packers. Carissa greeted us and personally escorted us around the facility, which stores, washes and packages about 6 million pounds of table-stock potatoes each year, for resale throughout the country.

The variety of potatoes that are processed at NoKota Packers is called Red Norlands, and they are wonderfully creamy with a smooth and delicious, thin red skin. All of the potatoes at NoKota Packers are grown in North Dakota by seven privately owned farms located within a 100-mile radius of Buxton. When I asked Carissa what makes these potatoes taste so good, she credited the rich soil of the Red River Valley and the fact that they are never irrigated.

We've used our Buxton's Best potatoes to make mashed potatoes, roasted reds and fried breakfast potatoes, and Carissa confirmed that they are also great for baking. Curiously, these special potatoes aren't available in our local Fargo-Moorhead stores, so you'll have to make the trip to Buxton to try these tasty reds. The plant is open to the public from September through May, with operating hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The potatoes are available for walk-in orders, and we couldn't believe how reasonably priced they are: $14 for 50 pounds, and $6 for 20 pounds. You can stop in anytime during business hours to pick up your potatoes, and can even call in advance to request a smaller-sized bag or place a large order.

We drove home happy and satisfied, our questions answered and our car 110 potato pounds heavier. We made rosemary smashed potatoes that night, a favorite recipe that turned out even better with our Buxton's Best potatoes.

Rosemary Smashed Buxton Potatoes

3 pounds red potatoes

½ cup olive oil

1½ tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place whole potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet or in a baking dish, pour ¾ cup water into pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes; uncover and cool for 10 minutes.

Coat with ¼ cup of olive oil and use a potato masher or the bottom of a baking sheet or frying pan to smash each potato. Drizzle remaining olive oil over smashed potatoes; sprinkle each with rosemary and season generously with salt and pepper.

Return potatoes to oven and bake for 40 minutes, uncovered, until golden brown with crispy skins.

Sarah's tips

-- The high temperature allows the potato skins to achieve optimum crispness.

-- Experiment with other fresh herbs including thyme and dill.

-- Serve with sour cream mixed with chives.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

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