Pommes Anna – A Simple French Dish, Paired with Madrigals (Medieval Song) for Your Cooking Pleasure

It was peaceful in my kitchen today. The air is fresh in Kentucky, and the landscape gets greener and greener as the days go by. My routine is simple – get the kids to school, swim my mile, shop, and cook. I think I’ll keep things like this. Even after we move to Germany. I decided, however, that Kentucky is a great place to be a writer. The people here don’t pry. There’s a politeness, but no southern sweetness, no passive-aggressive waves, no “I need you to clarify xyz…”, no “I have a GREAT opportunity for you!!”. It’s just grass and trees, cows and horses, and people who mind their own business. For a writer – it’s perfect.

I’ve always been happiest when I’m in a world of music and food. I chose Madrigal History Tour by The King’s Singers as my cooking music of choice today. This is an album I used to have on CD, over twenty years ago. It was one of the tools I used to improve my diction. If you study languages at all, like I do as a classical vocalist, you’ll find this album helpful. The voices of the King’s Singers are startlingly crisp. You can hear every vowel, every syllable, every diphthong with perfect clarity. If you’re not accustomed to Medieval Era music, you’ll probably feel a little uncomfortable when you listen to this. A bunch of men singing “fa la la la la la” and “de de de de de de”. But you need to understand that in the era this was written, this stuff was SULTRY. Courtly love and forbidden liaisons and all kinds of shenanigans happened surrounding these tunes.

If you have even a beginning education in Italian, German or French, you may even be able to pick out a few phrases. Nothing too complicated. Lots of songs about hearts, springtime, beauty and the like. Remember? Sultry. You have to remember that many folks back then died young, so they lived fast. And courtly love, although fleeting – was the most powerful anesthetic they had.

So today, I was doing my daily shopping at Walmart and The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” came on the in-house Radio. I always like to listen to the music at Walmart. I have to say, I’m impressed. I always enjoy singing along with the tunes at walmart.

But anyway, I cannot hear “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, by The Police without thinking about Pringles. Why? Because in the early 80’s, when that song came out, I could not for the life of me figure out what they were singing. Even then, when I was seven or eight, I was frustrated with crappy enunciation. I could hear that they were saying “Wrapped around ….”, the first part of the phrase was garbley , but I was almost sure it said “You and me”. “You and me, wrapped around…..” something. The last part of the phrase was really mucky, and that frustrated me. Over and over I listened to that song, until I FINALLY figured out what they were saying. What in the world would be worth singing a whole song for? A PRINGLE!!!! “You and me, wrapped around A PRINGLE”.


Listen to the song and tell me you can’t hear it. Really. So, of course, I bought some Pringles because The Police told me to.

Speaking of the law, I did sort of break the law today. I’m doing all kinds of crazy things lately. Really letting myself go. Now that I’m in Kentucky and away from the morality police there’s no telling what I might do. Like today, I took a lense wipe OUT OF THE BOX and used it to clean my glasses BEFORE I paid for it. I saw the little camera watch me and everything. It’s the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. I had a whole explanation ready and everything if I got busted by security.

“I’m a cook and my glasses get cloudy from oils and yesterday I wrote a recipe for Sticky Lemon Chicken and one of the steps was the shallow fry it and it really assed up my glasses and no really I have a blog and everything it’s read by several dozens of people every day I’m really a big deal in Japan”.

Me to the police (in my imagination)

I had it all planned out and everything.

Yesterday I found these gorgeous potatoes. I remembered a dish I tried in France years ago, when my husband and I visited Belleau Wood, the place of a historic World War One battle, and Hallowed Ground for all Marines, especially. Pommes Anna, is a classic Parisian dish, but for some reason I was able to try them outside of Paris, on that day in the fall of 2003. The dish doesn’t use red potatoes classically, but these potatoes were so pretty I had to use them. Also, the real Parisian Pommes Anna uses peeled potatoes. I thought keeping the skins on would make the finished dish pretty, so I left them on.

The thing about American versions of classic dishes that you need to watch out for is the needless inclusion of more ingredients. The French would not mind if I use red potatoes. They would mind, however, if I filled this dish with cheese and crap. I know we love our cheese, but to a French person, it’s really an assault on their food traditions to just throw cheese around like it’s hay or something. That’s one of the most important things I’ve learned in my travels. When to just STOP. Have a little respect. Food is more than something to cram into your mouth while you’re driving down the street (although I did eat some Pringles while I was driving home) – I digress. Food like this dish is the physical manifestation of generations of agricultural and artistic possibilities woven into peoples lives through countless sowing and harvests, markets and barters, births and deaths, and sacred family time around a table. *stops to breathe*

You’ll need nothing more for this dish than about 3 lbs of potatoes, 1 cup of butter, and some good sea salt. Slice the potatoes thinly, and soak in cool water for about 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Okay, pay attention because I don’t want you to find this out the hard way: You need to reserve almost THREE HOURS TOTAL to make this recipe. It’s very therapeutic, though. Don’t you think you need to slow down? Yes, you do. You need to listen to Madrigals. And then go search The King’s Singers and listen to more of their stuff. It’s gorgeous. All of it.

Next, lay the potatoes out on sheets of paper towels to dry.

You’ll need to use several layers of paper towels.

I used seven layers. Drying the potatoes is a very important step. You won’t have crisp potatoes if they are wet. You can also apply this technique to pan roasted potatoes. Yum.

Brush bottom of a heavy dish with butter. Cast iron or enameled cast iron is ideal. Layer the potatoes on top of each other and brush with butter between every layer. Sprinkle with salt on every other layer.

Video:

Bake, at 400 degrees, F, uncovered for 20 minutes. Cover pot, lower temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Uncover pot , crank the heat up to 425 and cook for 40 minutes. This will brown the top beautifully. Like this:

Gorgeous. Peel a few of those off and taste them. Delightful!

Inverting the dish on a pan (watch out for butter spillage) is the preferred method of presentation for this dish. If you want, pop it back into the oven and brown the tops for about 10 minutes on 425 degrees – just to get them delicious and crispy. It’s like a potato chip pie!! Ack!!!

Serve with Crème fraîche (preferably), green onions and little grape tomatoes. If you can’t find Crème fraîche, you can make it or use Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Thanks so much for joining me in my kitchen!

Shannon Vavich