Friday, October 22, 2010

Produce of the Week: Taters

Mashed, baked, roasted, fried, this starchy tuber can find its place in just about any dish, and any cuisine. After a long hiatus from my weekly produce updates, photos, or regular entries, I thought I would reenter the blogging scene with a friendly face. If anything, potatoes are a comfort food to which many people turn when they need a quick and easy meal or snappy side dish. The role of potatoes as a staple go much deeper than our modern, everyday use, though.

Domestic potatoes date back 4,000-5,000 years in the southern region of Peru, but this tuber in the nightshade family has been consumed by people for at least 10,000 years! As with most plants hailing from the Americas, the potato was first introduced to European diners by the Spaniards, during the 16th century. So popular and easily cultivated was this crop, that it became a staple, with the classic example being Ireland, whose fate rested essentially on a single variety. Read more about this tragic failing and the Irish potato famine of the 1840's.
While we now rely on a very limited gene pool for 99% of our potato needs, there are endless varieties (well, approximately 5,000), with hundreds found in single valleys of the Peruvian Andes. Much of the genetic diversity of this ancient plant still exists, but our present cultivation tactics foster "efficient" downsizing of diversity. Potatoes rank fourth among the major crops grown in the world, after corn, wheat, and rice. A vast pool of information exists on the history and present cultivation of potatoes, so explore as you see fit.

As I have eluded to already, there is a wealth of uses for potatoes, as there is also an abundance of varieties...even available in our humble farmers markets.

Three Potatoes, Three Ways

1 small purple potato (I will admit to living in ignorance of the variety...)
1 small pink potato (I used early rose, but there are some varieties with pink flesh!)
1 small yellow potato (German butterball was my choice, but there are plenty of choices)
Olive oil to coat the pan
Salt to taste
Nutritional Yeast
Garlic Powder
Pesto (that you made during the summer and froze, right...?)

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Coast a baking pan generously with olive oil.
2. Purple potatoes - just slice thinly (but not potato chip thin) and stick on the pan with a little sprinkle of salt. Consume with pesto.
3. Pink potatoes - simply slice thinly, as with the purples, layer on pan, sprinkle with salt and rosemary.
4. Yellow potatoes - mix yeast, garlic powder, and salt on a plate. Coat each side of sliced potato in mixture. Lay out on baking sheet.
5. Bake 25-30 minutes until a nice crust forms, but the insides are soft and cooked through.

Wasn't that easy? Well, if my roasty potato array didn't quite meet your needs, here are some other recipes from around the blog-o-sphere that might:

Heidi from 101Cookbooks once again delivers with an Autumn Potato Salad and some Kale Mashed Potatoes.
Smitten Kitchen has a lovely recipe for Potato Rosemary Bread (brush in olive oil for a beautiful glow).
Sweet Beet and Green Bean serves up Potato Leek Soup (I opt to leave out the non-dairy milk).
Go Indian-style with a curried version.
And of course, no potato page would be complete without a gnocchi recipe (I like adding salt, and using AP flour).

So, enjoy the potatoes as they roll in. Store them in a cool, dark place. And compost them if they turn green-ish (well, it's actually only toxic if you eat an exorbitant quantity of potatoes...)

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