Edible Cooks: Potatoes
Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty
I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like potatoes. They’re among the most comforting of foods, with an earthy, nutty flavor and an affinity for butter and salt. Every variety has its own unique texture: some floury and fluffy, others waxy and dense. Young new potatoes, harvested in the early summer and enjoyed straight from the ground with little to no curing, are sweet and crisp with thin, delicate skins, and are best simply steamed and rolled around in melted butter, showered with herbs, coarse salt, and pepper. Older potatoes, harvested late in the season and cured in temperate cellars, are more versatile, and depending on the variety, best for boiling and mashing, or cubing and roasting.
Nutritionally, potatoes get a bad rap, but they’re packed with Vitamins B and C, potassium, and antioxidants, so as long as they’re not smothered in too much butter and cheese, they can be part of a healthy diet. Be sure to buy organic or low-spray, though; one of the “Dirty Dozen,” pesticide residue lingers in potatoes, so conventionally-grown spuds should be avoided.
We’re lucky in New England to have a large commercial potato industry close by in Maine, where the climate and growing conditions are perfect for potatoes. We can find this local crop year round. Many farms are now growing multiple varieties, especially heirloom types of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Besides the ubiquitous Russet and Yukon Gold, seek out more interesting varieties like German Butterball, Bintje, Rose Finn, La Ratte Fingerlings and Peruvian Blues.
Winter farmers markets are an excellent resource for local potatoes, where you’ll often find them unwashed and caked in soil; this protects the skin during storage, so leave them dirty until you’re ready to cook. Keep your potatoes in a cool place in your pantry, closed tightly in a paper bag, and cook them within a week or so. Any sprouts that appear can be trimmed away with no ill effect, but if the skins turn green (from exposure to light), peel them before cooking.
I’m pretty sure every home cook has a go-to stash of potato recipes. From a basic, buttery mash to a rich, Gruyère-laden gratin, potatoes find their way onto most dinner plates at least once a week. They’re simple and hearty and go with just about everything, but sometimes our old standby recipes can get a bit tired. So while some of the following recipes aren’t particularly new or innovative, they might serve as helpful hints to make potatoes a weeknight highlight, not just a foil for butter, gravy, or sour cream. Matt Jennings of Boston’s Townsman even shared his company-worthy twice-baked sweet potato recipe, reason enough to put potatoes at the center of the plate this winter.