Nothing like the common potato

Potatoes

One of my favorite souvenirs is a photo from a trip to Paris
many years ago. I took it in one of the garden shops along the
Seine. The poster, large and full-color, features 3 dimensional
relief renditions of 15 different types of potatoes.
One of my favorite souvenirs is a photo from a trip to Paris many years ago. I took it in one of the garden shops along the Seine. The poster, large and full-color, features 3 dimensional relief renditions of 15 different types of potatoes.

They’re grouped according to yield, mildew resistance and days until harvest. Eating characteristics are also mentioned: good for steaming, fries, eating plain or mashed.

The potato, now a staple of both high and low French cooking, is a relative newcomer to France and the rest of the European world, having been introduced from South America in about 1500.

It has been a source of both prosperity and tragedy for the Irish, who we celebrate as we observe St. Patrick’s Day next Thursday.

Introduced to Ireland in about 1600, the potato quickly became a popular crop because it provided more food value per acre than crops grown there previously and the fields were more likely to survive the depredations of successive battles.

Unfortunately, this new, seemingly reliable food supply led to a population explosion and increasing dependence on this single crop.

When the potato blight struck in 1845, field after field was rendered inedible. Thousands perished and thousands more emigrated.

Those who came to North America – ancestors to many of us – helped the popularity of the potato in this country.

As the Irish, who in the 19th century ate more than 10 pounds a day, experienced, the potato is a nutritious food. Despite recent concerns about carbohydrates or glycemic index, a small (fist-size) potato, about 5 ounces, contains 3 grams of protein (and when combined with dairy products, even more high-quality protein), 22 grams of carbohydrate, no fat and about 100 calories. Vitamin C, iron and various other minerals are also present and the skin provides fiber.

Of course, potatoes are so versatile that they are often eaten fried or with butter and cheese that change the nutrition profile.

Inspired by the 15-potato poster, I did an informal survey of supermarkets in Hollister and found six types:

1. Russet or Idaho – the mature brown potato, excellent for baking, mashing or French fries

2. Red – usually round in shape, and good for steaming or boiling, and potato salad

3. White – longer in shape than the reds but good for the same uses.

4. Yukon Gold – a tan-skinned potato with golden flesh. Advertised as all-purpose, but I find it too mealy for potato salad.

5. Butter Reds and Butter Golds – new varieties to me. The reds are roundish, the golds are longer. I used them in the potato salad recipe which follows and found the Golds to be mealier but both worked well.

Colcannon

Here is an Irish recipe that could be a “mac and cheese” style main dish or a side dish for grilled meat or poultry:

(adapted from The Good Food Book by Jane Brody)

1 lb. russet or Idaho potatoes, unpeeled

1 lb. green cabbage, shredded

1 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup milk at room temperature (set the cup between burners while the vegetables cook)

1 T. butter

3 oz. sharp cheese, divided

salt and pepper to taste

Step 1: Preheat oven to about 350 degrees F. (The temperature is not critical; if you are baking something else it can be between 325 and 425.)

Step 2: Cut the potatoes into quarters and cook in lightly salted water until tender but not mushy (about 20 to 25 minutes). Drain them, set aside and reserve the cooking liquid.

Step 3: Cook the cabbage and onion in the potato water for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Step 4: Peel the potato chunks and place in a bowl. Add the milk and butter and mash until smooth.

Step 5: Add the drained reserved cabbage and onion to the potato mixture.

Step 6: Mix in 2/3 of the cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and transfer to a greased casserole or shallow baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Step 7: Heat in the oven until the cheese browns slightly.

Minimalist Potato Salad

This potato salad leaves out a lot of things that people think are necessary. Try it this way once and see if you don’t think it has the best potato-y flavor yet. If you don’t agree, you can always add back the eggs, pickle relish and so forth.

1 lb. red or other waxy potatoes juice of one lemon (about 2 T.)

salt and pepper to taste

2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

2 green onions, including part of green, coarsely chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

Step 1: Cook the potatoes with the skins on until tender, about 20 minutes.

Step 2: When the potatoes are done, drain and run cool water over them until they are cool enough to handle.

Step 3: Peel and slice into a glass or ceramic bowl.

Step 4: Toss with the lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Step 5: Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.

Step 6: Gently stir in the celery and green onion.

Step 7: Stir in the mayonnaise a few large spoonfuls at a time until all vegetables are evenly covered.

Step 8: Refrigerate until serving time.

Stuffed Baked

Potato Meal

This last recipe can be adapted for a solo microwave lunch or a quick family dinner. It is a good way to use up leftover veggies.

per person

1 baking potato

1/4 cup ricotta or cottage cheese

1 small garlic clove

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup chopped cooked vegetable (broccoli, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms all work well)

2 T. grated parmesan cheese

Step 1: Cook the potato in the microwave, about 6 minutes for a 7-ounce potato. The times don’t quite double for each additional potato. Be sure to pierce it with a

fork beforehand.

Step 2: Cut into the potato lengthwise and scoop out the flesh without tearing the skin. Reserve the skin.

Step 3: Mash the potato with the ricotta, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix in the broccoli or other vegetable and half the parmesan.

Step 4: Stuff the potato mixture into the reserved skin and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Step 5: Reheat in the microwave until warm through and the cheese is melted.

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