We will be featuring potatoes at our Winter Farmers’ Market on Saturday, January 26th at Wentworth Greenhouses in Rollinsford. While at the market, stop by the cooking demonstration table, where Chef Evan Hennessey of Stages at One Washington will be working wonders with this versatile tuber. Brookford Farm, Heron Pond Farm, Hollister Family Farm, Maine Herb Farm, Meadow’s Mirth Farm, Red Manse Farm, Riverside Farm, and Wild Miller Gardens will all be bringing a wide selection for you to bring home.
Potatoes are possibly the most versatile vegetable used in the kitchen; there are hundreds of recipes involving potatoes. From potatoes au gratin to potato and leek soup to potato salad, there is not a season without its share of delicious potato recipes. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, each with their own qualities: fingerlings are fantastic roasted, russets are ideal for baking, and Yukon golds are great for just about anything.
Early cultivation of potatoes soon revealed that they are hardy, easy to store, and nutritious. A medium-sized potato contains no fat, no cholesterol, less than 10% of the daily recommended value of carbohydrates, and only 110 calories! It also has more potassium than a banana, 45% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, and one of the highest overall antioxidant activity among vegetables. So enjoy a potato today!
Store potatoes in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. The ideal storage temperature is 45 to 50ºF. At these temperatures, potatoes will keep for several weeks. But don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator! When kept below 40ºF, potatoes develop a sweet taste, due to the conversion of starch to sugar. This increased sugar causes potatoes to darken when cooked. Also, prolonged exposure to light will cause potatoes to turn green; this greening causes a bitter flavor. If potatoes develop green areas or start to sprout, just trim off these areas before using.
• Baked — For baked potatoes, scrub well and pierce the ends with a fork or skewer so steam can escape. Never attempt to bake a mature potato without puncturing the skin – it might explode. For crisp skins, rub lightly with oil or butter (to prevent skin from cracking and to improve the taste) and roll in sea salt for taste. For more tender skins, leave dry. Place onto an oven rack in a preheated 400 degree oven and bake until done, approximately one hour. To test doneness, squeeze gently. Done potatoes will yield to gentle pressure (for detailed instructions, check out the Perfect Baked Potato).
• Boiled — Boiled potatoes should be started in cold water rather than hot; this allows for more even cooking and heat penetration from outside to inside during the relatively long cooking time required. Potatoes should never be cooled in cold water, unlike most vegetables; this makes them soggy. For fluffier boiled potatoes, simply pour off all the water after they are boiled and cover the pot with a double thickness of paper towels, then cover with the saucepan lid. In ten minutes, steam will be absorbed by the towels and your potatoes will be dry and fluffy.
• Mashed — Russet potatoes make the best mashed potatoes. Peel them and cut into equal-sized pieces. Boil and cook the potatoes until they are just tender. Remove from heat and drain. Dry over low heat for a few minutes. Mash quickly (so the potatoes remain hot) with an old-fashioned potato masher. Add one tablespoon butter for each two potatoes and salt to your taste. Beat until the butter is melted. Then add milk or light cream that has been heated but not brought to a boil (if you add cold liquid, the potatoes will be cold and gummy). Beat the liquid into the potatoes to make a smooth, fluffy mixture. Add only enough liquid to make the mixture smooth, about one tablespoon for each potato. Do not overbeat. All this should be done as quickly as possible so the potatoes never have a chance to get cold – that is the secret of delicious mashed potatoes!
Another delicious way to fix potatoes is a dish called Twice Baked Potatoes: Bake potatoes. Let cool to touch. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out potato leaving peel intact. Mash potatoes. Add butter, sour cream, chives, milk, salt and pepper to taste. Fill potato peelings with potato mixture. Top with cheddar cheese. Place in oven at 350 degrees for 10–15 minutes until cheese melts and potatoes are heated through.
Potatoes are useful in other ways. If your mouth is burning, a bite of cooked or raw potato is an excellent way to cool a mouth that has been heated with hot chili peppers or salsa. If you put too much salt in a stew or soup, place a peeled raw potato in them to soak up the salt. Enjoy potatoes! They are fun, delicious, and nutritious!