Post # 71 Potayto Potahto

November 14, 2012 at 10:16 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 71 Potayto Potahto

Doesn’t matter how you pronounce it, you’re still talking about a root vegetable common in over half of the world’s farming countries.  When I think about potatoes, I invariably think of Ireland and the potato famine that drove so many to ruin; or else I think of the great state of Idaho whose reputation is based on this starchy edible tuber.  I found out a lot of facts about the common potato over the years.  For instance, did you know that humans can live quite healthy lives on nothing but potatoes, a little milk, and a little butter?  Boring, sure, but there you are.

Mom was 100% Irish and we had potatoes six days out of seven, typically.  When I was a kid, I hated potatoes.  Actually, that’s not strictly true.  I didn’t like many of the ways my mom made them.  I like potato chips, and I like fried potatoes.  I didn’t like mashed, or boiled, or baked, or steamed, or soup, or scalloped, or nearly any other dozen or so ways Mom knew.  At the time, we all thought I was just being finicky.  Now, I know I was just bored.

When I went to college and stayed with my sister, she introduced me to other varieties of potatoes that Mom never had in our house.  We ate russets exclusively, huge brown thick-skinned tubers that were so versatile you could make them a gazillion different ways.  My sister and her husband showed me that there were other kinds with different flavors, different colors, even different skin thicknesses.  There are over 4000 varieties but only around 85 that are commonly used on the table.  85?  Did you know that?  I’ve eaten maybe six.

Potatoes are very easy to mishandle, and it’s even easier to choose the wrong potato for recipe you’re making.  Russets, for instance, make great baking potatoes, but the best mashed potatoes come from Yukon, also called Yukon Gold.  When a Yukon is cooked and mashed, you don’t need to add anything to it but a little salt.  Trust me.  For steaming, or potato salad (which I still don’t like, but for other reasons called mayonnaise) the best potato is a red skin potato.  I once boiled up a mix of new potatoes and included were some Peruvian Purples.  They really are purple.  However, when cooked, they bear an uncomfortable resemblance to poop.  Taste is good.  Visual is not so good.

When a potato is harvested can also affect its taste.  Mature potatoes have quite a different flavor than “new” or baby potatoes.  New potatoes have a skin so thin you can almost blow on them to remove them.  It should be said here, for all fruits and vegetable, most the vitamins and nutrients lie in the flesh just under the skin.  Removing the skin removes that, no matter how thinly you take the skin off.  Learn to eat the skins.  It provides roughage, too.

I’m going to tell you how to make two really great potato dishes from basically the same thing.  The first is called Potato Boats.  It’s a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.  Take two cups of cold mashed potatoes and add two eggs and 1/2 a cup of flour and mix them thoroughly.  Grease a baking sheet and heat the oven to 375.  Scoop 1/2 a cup of potato onto the baking sheet and spread it a tiny bit, making a well in the center, but don’t go through to the pan.  Bake for twenty minutes, until potatoes are crusty and brown.  Remove from oven and fill the wells with anything you like.  I typically put leftover meat, vegetables, and gravy in them.  Put back in the oven until everything is heated through.  Use a wide spatula and move the potato boats to a plate and eat!

The second thing is called Potato Gnocchi, pronounce Nyo-kee.  It’s a little temperamental but delicious.  Take 2 pounds of Yukon potatoes and steam them until they’re tender, but do not overcook!  When a knife passes through without any resistance, they’re done.  Usually between fifteen and twenty minutes.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, but still hot, peel them and put them through either a food mill or potato ricer into a large bowl.  This is to make sure there are no lumps.  Do NOT use a food processor or mixer.  This will turn the potatoes to glue.  When the potatoes are ready, add 1 1/2 cups of flour and a healthy pinch of salt.  Use a wooden spoon and mix the flour and potatoes together until a dough has formed.  Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead gently, tasting to see if more salt is needed.  Knead for five minutes, then divide into four equal pieces.  Roll by hand until each piece is a rope about 3/4 inches thick.  Cut the rope into 3/4 inch long pieces.  When all the pieces are cut, roll them along the back of a fork, pressing lightly but firmly to create a pattern on the dough piece and a curled formation.  When all the gnocchi are ready, boil a large pot of water and cook the gnocchi in batches.  They’re done when they all rise to the surface.  Remove them with a slotted spoon or strainer and shake to lightly to remove all water.  Place the gnocchi into a prepared sauce that’s still warm.  I often use butter with a little garlic and parmesan cheese.  When all the gnocchi are in the sauce, heat the sauce thoroughly and flip the gnocchi around to coat evenly.  Do not use a spoon to stir.  Serve warm with whatever garnish or side you prefer.


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