Kitchen Shrink: A feast for the ‘Eyes’ with lovely spuds on St. Paddy’s Day
In my globetrotting days, I stumbled upon an eatery in Wales with a tater-centric menu that served only potatoes done dozens of ways. As a die-hard fan, I indulged in multiple dishes, each one more sumptuous than the next. I’m not alone in my love affair with this tantalizing tuber grown in 125 countries worldwide and 50 states across the land, the average American scarfing down roughly 30 pounds of these versatile nightshades every year for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and even desserts. On the Emerald Isle in the 1800’s the root vegetable was so beloved that the Irish only farmed this crop with a single variety for mass planting. Using this dicey monoculture system proved disastrous when that particular potato species was struck by a blight, and the country’s entirety of crops perished. Over a million people starved to death during this Great Famine that triggered the Irish diaspora to America, enriching our culture and cuisine with a lively stew of creativity and jovialities. On the cusp of St. Paddy’s Day, let’s dance a jig in honor of the nearly 35 million Irish descendants in this nation, even though they were seeded by an original disaster, and celebrate the noble potato that conferred the luck of them upon us.
The precious earth apple once revered by Incans for healing wounds, easing childbirth, and marking units of time by measuring how long it took to cook a single spud, is still appreciated today for its rich store of nutrients in both the skin and flesh. This fat- and gluten-free carb (that’s 80 percent water) contains “resistant starch” that becomes a prebiotic warrior amping up gut health and digestion, more fluid-balancing potassium than a banana, more immune boosting vitamin C than a tomato, and other mighty antioxidants particularly in the skin and pigmented flesh of certain varieties to ward off harmful free radicals. Bone up with calcium, energize with B6’s, and knock migraines off their feet with magnesium from the mighty tater.
To keep this low-cal powerhouse healthy swap out traditional rich and fatty toppings and mix-ins, such as butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, and whole-milk cheeses for slimming ones like Greek yogurt, olive oil, roasted garlic, and low-fat cheeses. Be mindful of portion size, and choose boiling, roasting, baking, and air-frying over deep-frying.
Skin in the Game
At least 200 potato varieties sprouting around the world, here’s a short list of our favorite pommes de terre:
— Russet Burbank – The baked potato king, large and oblong with a grainy white flesh, and dark brown skin tattooed with a netted pattern is the most popular variety on this continent. Russets also hold up well for mashed potatoes, and French fries of all manners.
— Reds – These rosy-skinned beauts, whether mashed, smashed, roasted, or tossed in salads add a nice pop of color, while their creamy flesh provides a perfect palette for absorbing flavors from soups and stews.
—Yukon Golds with a smooth, tan-colored skin surrounding a sweet, buttery flesh are sturdy taters that keep their shape whether boiled, baked, grilled, roasted, or pan-fried.
—Fingerlings – These crescent-shaped miniatures with low-starchy flesh in varying shades, and delicate waxy skins, include the Russian Banana (yellowy flesh), the Purple Pelisse (earthy notes with deep violet anthocyanin-rich flesh), and the Red Thumb (a fluffy pinkish flesh). Multitasking fingerlings pair equally well with a burger or niçoise salad for a casual lunch, as with a rack of lamb or roasted fowl at an elegant holiday table.
— New Potatoes -- Diminutive versions of full-sized varieties that are harvested before the tuber matures pack an intense flavor punch with skin and flesh a Technicolor of reds, purples, browns, and yellows.
— Kennebec – The darling of Maine and top chefs, this versatile, white-fleshed, buff-skinned tuber keeps its shape when cooked, ideal for soups and stews, and particularly delicious as pommes frites (thinly-sliced French fries), or roasted Hasselbacks.
Green Around the Gills
Although Ireland is a verdant paradise, and green is the emblematic color of St. Patrick’s Day, steer clear of greenish-tinged potatoes. When these nightshades are exposed to light, they form a toxin called solanine that usually concentrates in patches under the skin. Discard or cut away these green spots as they are bitter and can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms. To prevent greening store these nyctophiles in a cool, dark place in a paper bag for up to two months. Select firm, smooth-skinned spuds without blemishes, cuts, sprouting “eyes” (a sign it is trying to grow), or soft spots.
Now Let’s Go Green
For March 17, whip up a mouth-watering potato dish bursting with vibrant colors and flavors of spring. Colcannon, the humble Irish comfort food blending mashed potatoes with sauteed cabbage can be brightened with toasted kale leaves, pureed celery root, mild spring onions, or chives. Fry a batch of scallion potato pancakes, toss some grilled reds in pesto pasta, blend a light and sassy potato salad with lemon vinaigrette and briny mixture of green olives, capers, and fresh herbs, or roast a heap of crisp fingerlings with a heavenly green goddess dipping sauce so scrumptious you’ll think you’ve found a pot o’ gold at the end of a rainbow.
2-pounds mixed fingerlings
1/2-cup grapeseed oil
1-teaspoon each fresh chopped rosemary, flat-leaf parsley, thyme
1-teaspoon dried mixed herbs
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
In mixing bowl, whisk oil and seasonings. Toss potatoes until well-coated.
Bake single-fille on cookie sheet until crisp.
Green Goddess Dipping Sauce:
1-cup Greek or goat yogurt, or sour cream
1 ripe avocado
1 shallot, minced
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
4-tablespoons each fresh mint, cilantro, tarragon (your choice)
Zest and juice from half s Meyer lemon
2-teaspoons grapeseed oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Blend ingredients in food processor until smooth. Chill.
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