Like pōhutukawa, pavlova, and mid-afternoon Christmas day naps, the Jersey Benne has become intrinsically linked to summer in New Zealand. And each year one Oamaru farm works hard behind the scenes ensuring the perfect potato is ready for the table.
What makes this particular potato so special? First, there’s the taste. The oval-shaped small-medium potato has a thin skin and sweet, creamy flesh. The burst of flavour upon first bite of a good Benne leaves no uncertain impression as to why this is a premium crop.
For over 26 years Rangeview’s family farm in Oamaru has been dutifully providing for many of New Zealand’s most delicious meals. While their kale and baby broccoli have won plaudits in recent times nothing creates quite the buzz as the arrival each year of their acclaimed Jersey Benne.
A true seasonable vegetable, some culinary devotees look forward to the appearance of the potato with similar anticipation as that of the Bluff oyster. And for many Kiwis a midday feast or twilight backyard meal isn’t the same without the beautiful Benne – summer isn’t summer without the right spud.
Then there’s the heritage of this vegetable. A relative of the Jersey Royal, a crop first grown in 1880 on the largest of the Channel Islands. From there the distinctive kidney-shaped potato migrated to other parts of the world, with New Zealand offering an ideal home (and a name change) “the Jersey Benne”.
The unique loamy soils and gentle, temperate climate of Oamaru makes this region the perfect home for Jersey Bennes in New Zealand.
Rangeview have been growing the family favourite for decades now. The close-knit company takes pride and care in the growth of their crops. Each year from mid-November to early January the harvest is hand-picked and carefully prepared and packaged before making their way nationwide.
From history comes tradition. At this time of year some may be making plans for potato salads or more complicated or exotic fare. Accompanying ham, salmon or other popular Christmas day fare the Rangeview Jersey Benne is a standout.
The adaptability of the Benne certainly offers additional layers of flavour when crushed and roasted, and the more adventurous might try wafers or adding other ingredients.
However, like other great Kiwi culinary fare, sometimes simple is best. Boiled with mint and slathered with butter is all that’s needed to bring out the best in the Benne.
CRUSHED ROASTED NEW POTATOES WITH GARLIC AND ROSEMARY
It’s hard to resist a bowl piled high with crispy roasted potatoes.
1 kilogram small waxy potatoes, scrubbed (I used Rangeview Jersey Bennes)
2 large red onions, peeled, cut into wedges through the root
1 red capsicum, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves
12 whole cloves garlic, skin on
leaves from 2 big sprigs rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
sea salt and ground pepper
large knob of butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Cook the potatoes in a pot of boiling salted water until they are three-quarters cooked. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Press down on each potato to lightly crush.
Place the potatoes in a large baking tray with all the remaining ingredients except the butter. Toss together, season generously then dot over the butter. Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once, until the potatoes are golden and crisp in places and the onion is tender.
TO SERVE: Transfer to a serving bowl and scatter with a little sea salt. SERVES 6
COOK’S NOTE: The potatoes can be boiled, cooled and refrigerated two days ahead of roasting.
WARM NEW POTATOES WITH ROCKET, MUSTARD AND PECORINO
My new favourite summer potato recipe! Warm waxy potatoes enrobed with a sweet-sharp mustard dressing, the bite of black pepper and a blizzard of pecorino.
1 kilogram small waxy potatoes, scrubbed
1 tablespoon whole grain honey mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 teaspoons coarsely cracked pepper
big handful rocket leaves
pecorino cheese, or vegetarian alternative, for grating
Cook the potatoes in well salted boiling water until just tender.
Drain well and put back in the saucepan. Whisk the mustard, vinegar, oil, salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper together. Tip onto the hot potatoes, add the rocket and a generous grating of pecorino.
Gently stir everything together to wilt the rocket then tip into a serving bowl, scraping in any dressing left in the saucepan.
Add another generous grating of pecorino and the extra 1 teaspoon of cracked pepper if desired. Serve immediately.
COOK’S NOTE: If you don’t have honey mustard, use regular whole grain mustard and 1 teaspoon of runny honey.