Of all the foods available to Mainers limited by closures and quarantine, none is more valuable than the lowly potato. They’re affordable, they can be stored in good condition for quite a long time (keep in a cool, dry, dark place), their purchase supports local farmers (be sure to check the label before buying), and they’re incredibly versatile, as demonstrated by these 10 serving ideas.
1: Mashed. Whip them up with butter and sour cream, adding onion and granulated garlic. Top with smoked paprika. And as I noted last November, these are also great for leftovers: shape into patties and fry, or mix into bread dough.
2: Baked. Put a little olive oil in a mixing bowl and toss the ‘taters one at a time, swirling to lightly coat them. Then pierce the skin with a fork and toss them with salt. Place directly on the oven rack, with a drip pan beneath, and bake at 450F. Depending on their size, this can take 30 to 50 minutes. You’ll know they’re ready when the skins become firm and crispy and the insides start to shrink a little. The leftovers make great home fries the next morning, so always bake a few extra.
3: Roasted. Cut potatoes, parsnips and sunchokes into cubes and toss them with olive oil and seasonings (I usually use salt, peppercorn, garlic granules, basil, thyme and rosemary). Place in an uncovered roasting pan or on a cookie sheet and bake at 425-450F on the middle rack of the oven. Set a timer for nine minutes, and either put the cover on the pan and toss it or use a spatula to stir them up to prevent sticking at nine-minute intervals. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour (again, depending on size).
4: Potato Pancakes. Using a grater or food processor, shred about 3 lbs. of potatoes (russets work great) and 1 large yellow onion. Put the shredded potato and onion into a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze into a large bowl, removing as much moisture as you can (squeeze hard!). Let the liquid rest for a minute and the starch will settle to the bottom. Pour off the liquid, but save the starch. Whisk salt, pepper and 2 eggs into the starch, then add the shredded potatoes, onions and 1/4 cup finely ground bread crumbs. Mix this all together with your hands. Set aside, and heat some oil for frying (I prefer neutral coconut oil; it has a high smoke point and its medium-chain triglycerides are easier to digest). Form and flatten patties by hand and fry in the oil 4-5 minutes per side. Once golden brown and crispy, drain on a paper towel. Keep warm in a 200F oven as necessary. Traditionally served topped with applesauce or sour cream, they’re also good with hot sauce, ketchup and mustard, or yogurt!
5: Potato Leek Soup. There are many ways to make this — some using a roux, others heavy cream — but they’re all good! The simplest method is to chop the leeks and some celery, peel and cube the potatoes, and heat a soup pot on the stove. When the pot is hot, add some olive oil or butter and start to cook the leeks. Once they start to smell amazing, add the celery for a minute, then add water, chicken or veggie stock to just cover the potatoes and simmer 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Use an immersion blender to make it creamy. I usually add salt, pepper, tarragon and (sometimes) cumin, coriander seed and/or smoked paprika. At this point, you can add a little butter or heavy cream and stir it in, but note: you don’t want the soup boiling when adding dairy, because it can curdle and taste bitter.
6: Butternut Squash Soup. Like the previous soup, chop an onion and cook with olive oil right in the soup pot until it becomes translucent. Add cubes of peeled butternut squash and potato at a ratio of about 3:1. Add water or stock to cover the squash and potato, cover and simmer about 30 minutes, until potatoes and squash are soft. Time again for the trusty immersion blender! Once blended, stir in some spices. I like to use coriander seed, cinnamon and, occasionally, nutmeg.
7: Fries. The trick to good fries is selecting a low-starch potato (usually red- or white-skinned; you want a smooth, waxy interior, not a mealy texture), and leeching the starch out through simmering. I cut the fries and simmer them in a pot of water for about 10 minutes. Remove and let them drain and cool. You can either bake or fry them. For extra-crispy fries, shake them vigorously in a covered mixing bowl, or just leave them as-is for more of a steak-fry texture.
8: Chips. As with fries, select a low-starch potato. Using a mandoline slicer, thinly slice the potatoes and toss them in simmering water for about 5-7 minutes. When you pull them out, rinse with cold water to stop them from cooking and let them drain dry. You may want to pat them dry with a towel, too. Then you can fry them in oil or bake them. If frying, season the chips afterward; if baking, make a light oil mixture and whisk the seasonings in. One of my favorite flavors is barbeque. For this, I use salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, onion granules, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. Another good seasoning mixture is salt, pepper, onion and garlic granules (mimics the flavor of original Pringles!).
9: Burger Buns. A great way to use leftover baked potatoes is to cut them cleanly in half and fry the cut side while you cook the burger. A large Yukon Gold seems to work best for this.
10: Potato Salad. There are so many ways to make a potato salad. I usually boil whole potatoes about 15 minutes, cool, then cube. I add plenty of chopped celery and onions, diced pickles, mayo and mustard. If you’re adventurous, try adding some capers or Kalamata olives! After all this is mixed, I like to sprinkle smoked paprika over the top.