Wednesday, September 18, 2013

One Potato, Two Potato

Here's my September column from the Petaluma Post. Enjoy...

No, no, there are many more than two kinds!  Have you recently taken the time to look at potatoes at your
Potato Gratin
farmers’ market?  Are they red, yellow or blue?  Are they Russian or Yukon or whatever?  What ever happened to the traditional russet?  Let me help you through at least a few of the many thousands of kinds of potatoes that are out there.

The first thing to learn about is starch.  This is important for how each kind of potato is best used.  Are you making a salad?  You need a boiling potato, which typically contains approximately 16-18% starch.  This means that they will hold together after boiling, cutting and mixing.  For that light and fluffy baked potato you want a more floury or mealy (baking) potato which has more starch (20–22%) .  This is better for roasting and for baking, and also for making gnocchi.

We are lucky locally to have several farmers growing a large variety of potatoes.  Some of my favorites are Yukon Gold for mashing, Baby Red for salad, Idaho Russet for baking (it was created by our own Luther Burbank!), Russian Banana for roasting and most of all Yellow Finns for roasting wedges.  Yellow fin are my favorite.

A few years ago at home when we planted a potato bed, we put in several varieties and waited to see what would come up.  It was almost like an Easter egg hunt when it came time for harvest.  We missed a few little ones and a plant two comes up every year, and I always find the mystery potatoes to be a fun treat.

Herb Dijon Potato Salad with Roasted Red Peppers
Serves 10-15
3 lbs small red potatoes
2 red bell peppers
6 stalks celery- diced
½ bunch Italian parsley, chopped
¼ cup whole grain Dijon mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
 Salt and pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a pot large enough to cover with 3” of water, then cover with cold water and boil until tender, testing with the tip of a knife.  Drain and allow to cool completely, then slice into bite size pieces. 

Roast the red peppers by placing under the broiler or over the gas burner, blacken on all sides.  Afterward place the peppers in a plastic bag to sweat for 5-10 minutes, and then the skins should slip right off (a nice chef’s trick).  Finally cut into julienne strips

Combine all ingredients, and you may serve either warm or chilled.  If preparing ahead, withhold the parsley till serving, to keep it from wilting and add a pop of color.

Potato Gratin
Serves 8-10
3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
8 oz grated parmesan
½ tsp thyme
1 tsp salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Thinly sliced the potatoes, rinse in cold water, and drain well.  Combine all ingredients and place on and edged baking sheet, spreading evenly.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until golden and knife tip tender.

Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
Served 4-6
2 lbs yukon gold potatoes
4 oz butter
½ cup ½ & ½
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut potatoes to uniform size, cover with cold water and boil till tender. 

Brown butter is a French method that browns the solid bits in the butter.  It will greatly intensify the butter flavors; I love this approach. Place the butter in a thick sauce pan, melt and bring up to a boil, and immediately turn the heat down to medium.  Continue cooking until the butter begins to turn brown.  Take to a medium color, and remove from the heat.

Drain the potatoes, mash by hand or machine, add the butter, then the half and half.  Season with salt and pepper.

If you would like a few more creative potato recipes or would like to know the difference between a sweet potato and yam, see my blog ( and search for “potato”.