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Potatoes: Explore Your Humble Roots Part 2

Updated on May 31, 2010

Whether mealy or waxy, potatoes should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place (ideally, 45 to 50 degrees F). If they're stored in the refrigerator, some of their starch begins to convert to sugar, and you end up with a sweetened potato (although this process will reverse if the potatoes are left out at room temperature again). And don't keep them in plastic bags; they're better off stored loosely in bins or paper bags.

It's best to use your potatoes within a couple of weeks of purchase, although they will keep longer. Once the skin begins to take on a greenish tinge, you should probably throw them out. The green color betrays the presence of toxic alkaloids and, while the cooking process will kill the alkaloids, you may end up with a bitter-tasting potato.

Put potatoes in a generous amount of water, bring to a boil, and simply keep boiling until they are soft all the way through. For the smallest potatoes, this will take about 10 minutes, and medium-size potatoes will cook in about 25 minutes. If you're boiling really big potatoes, first cut them up.

Put whole or cut potatoes in a steamer placed over an inch or two of boiling water, and steam until they're soft. Cooking times will be similar to those for boiling.

To make mashed potatoes, cut baking potatoes (leave them unpeeled unless you strongly object to pieces of skin in the end product) into chunks and boil or steam them. Then run them through a food mill or potato ricer and mix them with cream, butter, roasted garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs, buttermilk, or grated cheese (or a combination).

To make classic, crisp-skinned baked potato, all you need is a potato and an oven. Your microwave won't do - it will produce potatoes with soft skins and a steamed taste. Pierce the potatoes with a fork in a couple of places, and put them in a 400-degree-F oven until they're completely soft, usually 45 minutes to an hour. Serve with sour cream, butter, salsa, gravy, yogurt, roasted garlic, grated cheese, or just about anything else.

Although roasting, as in baking, involves cooking potatoes in an oven, this process usually refers to small potatoes or potato pieces, often combined with herbs and other flavors. Waxy potatoes roast best, and bite-size pieces will take 35 to 45 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Potatoes are perhaps the most versatile of food staples - they're cheap, easy to cook, and nutritious. Try them in almost anything, from soups to salads, curries to gratins, and purees, pies, and pancakes.

  • Soup up your potatoes: Use them as chunks in chowder, or puree them with sweet potatoes, squash, or carrots. Combine potatoes with greens and spicy sausage, or with ham and cheddar. And there's always the classic potato-leek soup.
  • As an alternative to french fries, try twice-baked potato skins. Scoop out a baked potato (use the flesh for soup, puree, or stew), slice the skins in 1-inch strips, and rebake them at 400 degrees F until they're crisp, about 20 minutes. Serve with ketchup or sour cream.
  • Make a cool-weather warm potato salad. Steam or boil new potatoes and, while still warm, combine them with steamed spinach and diced bacon then top with a yogurt-, mayonnaise-, or buttermilk-based dressing.
  • Try potatoes with eggs: Sauté an onion with diced smoked ham. Add a coarsely chopped cooked potato, an ounce of grated cheese, and 4 eggs, and pour into a greased baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F until eggs set, about 30 minutes.
  • Make a stuffed potato hors d'oeuvre from small red potatoes. Bake them, then cut in half and scoop out the insides. Combine the flesh with crabmeat, sour cream, and chopped chives. Fill the scooped-out halves with the mixture, and warm under the broiler.
  • Roast potatoes are a simple side dish for poultry or meat. Cut new potatoes into bite-size pieces and add salt, pepper, and a little dried rosemary. Mix with some olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and spread in one layer on a nonstick baking pan. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes at 400 degrees F.

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