From the Bits & Bytes section of our site, featuring articles we couldn’t squeeze into the last issue.
by Paula Marcoux
Unless you are Colombian, you’re probably unfamiliar with the delicious chicken and potato stew called ajiaco; but, then again, if you’re a farmer here in southeastern New England, chances are that you are more than acquainted with its distinctive ingredient, Galinsoga parviflora. Where it has been introduced (usually in a load of compost or manure), galinsoga can quickly dominate a landscape until the first hint of frost. Throughout the growing season, its seeds germinate in the billions as they are brought to the surface each time the soil is disturbed – so that the very act of weeding the plants out of an affected area can potentially carpet it in a whole NEW batch. And in a matter of days. A British organic gardening website states drily , “The average number of seeds per plant is 2,000 but a large plant can have up to 15,000 seeds, and a figure of 400,000 has been suggested.” (http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk)Yesterday, I worked in a 100-by-200-foot potato bed that was hosting, oh, about 80 of these nascent smotherers (so innocent-looking when tiny!) per square foot. You do the math.
So, you may be lucky enough to be unafflicted by galinsoga in your own garden – but this gives you an opportunity to really blow your friendly farmer’s mind by offering to buy a bagful of it when you shop for the first local potatoes of the season. (Take my word for it, you’ll have to ask, AND you’ll make that farmer’s day.) It’s a crucial ingredient in ajiaco; this recipe is adapted from one logged by Andrea Meyers:
- One local chicken – 4 pounds or so
- 2 cups of lightly chopped galinsoga, divided
- 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 6 pounds new red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 pounds new yellow creamy potatoes like Yukon Gold (meant to replace papas criollas – which you should of course prefer if should happen on them!) cut into 1-inch chunks
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 ears corn on the cob (starchy, if possible), cut into 3-inch pieces
- 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped coarsely
crema Mexicana (or regular heavy cream)
Rinse the chicken and put it in a large stockpot. Add 1 cup of galinsoga, a teaspoonful of salt, and 6 quarts of cold water. Set over medium heat, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and skim any foam off the top. Simmer on the lowest setting for an hour. Taste for salt, but go easy, since the ajiaco will become more concentrated as is cooks. Add all the potatoes and garlic, and return to a simmer.
When the chicken is tender, remove it from the stockpot, and let it cool until you can handle it. Remove the meat from the bones and skin, and add back to the pot. Meanwhile keep the potatoes simmering away in there until they start to disintegrate. All this simmering will take 3 or 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before you intend to serve, add the corn. Five minutes before, add the remaining cup of galinsoga and the scallions.
Serve in deep bowls, along with the garnishes.