All About Potatoes
Among all vegetables the potato probably needs the least introduction. Potatoes should be stored in a paper bag in a cool (preferably 40-45⁰F), dark place with air circulation. Avoid storing in plastic bags. When stored optimally they can last up to one year; otherwise they should be used within a few weeks. Cooler temperatures apparently increase the conversion of starch to sugar, which can increase acrylamide production during cooking. Warmer temperatures speed spoilage. Exposure to light increases production of toxic compounds that concentrate in the sprouts and skin; these are sometimes signaled by green spots that should be peeled away. The skin is otherwise safe to eat, but sprouts should be removed.
Other than new potatoes, potatoes generally fall into two categories, waxy or starchy, which might be considered for specific culinary uses. Though there are thousands of potato varieties in many colors, sweet potatoes are not related to white potatoes.
New potatoes are immature potatoes harvested young in the spring and early summer and eaten before curing. They are prized for their thin skin, high moisture content, and sweetness. New potatoes should have smooth skin without bruises or spots, and they should feel firm and dry. In contrast to "regular," cured potatoes, new potatoes should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a few days. They can be stored in a paper bag or in an unsealed plastic bag with ventilation. As a general rule, washing vegetables shortens vegetables’ storage life, and this is particularly true for new potatoes, as they should be kept as dry as possible.
Potatoes are generally washed and scrubbed (new potatoes may simply be rinsed) or sometimes peeled. If they are peeled or cut ahead of time, the exposed surface of the flesh will start browning, which can be prevented by storing them in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator. Potatoes are not typically eaten raw and can be cooked in any manner: steamed, boiled, fried, roasted, grilled, etc. Some chefs prefer certain varieties for specific cooking methods, such as using waxy (not starchy) potatoes for potato salads.
Can you freeze potatoes?
Apparently yes, by blanching or other cooking methods, including mashed potatoes, though I have never tried these methods. Maybe that's why, in my experience, soups and stews made with potatoes tend to have an unpleasant mealy texture when thawed. On the other hand, during my childhood my mother regularly froze cooked potato pancakes at holiday times, and I remember these freezer-to-oven goodies as a delicious treat. This is a handy trick for large batches of make-ahead latkes.
Potato and Pickle Soup
Over the past couple of years, I have been making pickles. Among the types of pickles I make are classic fermented sour pickles. The technique involves submerging cucumbers in a brine of 5% pickling or sea salt in water, with spices and other ingredients, and allowing them to ferment. In fermentation, resident microorganisms produce lactic acid, preserving the pickles and giving them a wonderfully complex flavor and texture. I described some of my pickling adventures in this blog post.
My primary guide for fermentation was Sandor Katz’s book “The Art of Fermentation”. Leftover brine from fermentation is sometimes used as an ingredient in soups. That sent me on a search for soup recipes using pickle brine.
I found a recipe called “Polish Soup” online. I use this recipe as a guide, but modify it in a few key ways and, generally, I improvise the soup each time I make it. In one major modification to the recipe, I never boil the carrots with the potatoes but, instead, sauté them. I do not peel the potatoes either. You can improvise, too, depending on the ingredients you prefer, how much brine you have, etc. Really, you cannot go wrong with these ingredients!
Since the focus here is potatoes, let’s start there. I use the freshest organic potatoes I can find. My favorites are Yukon Gold, though I believe this recipe would still be delicious with other thin-skinned varieties (not the classic “baking potatoes”). But, if you have a choice, please use Yukon gold or other yellow potatoes.
Vegetables – 3 lb potatoes, 1 or 2 carrots, sliced; 2 or 3 leeks (or substitute a large sweet onion, diced), sliced; 2 or 3 garlic cloves minced; a big bunch of kale or other greens that you like, with tough stems removed and coarsely chopped
Liquid – about 2 cups pickle brine; 2 cups vegetable stock (I often use Whole Foods organic vegetable stock; make sure you have extra stock on hand to adjust the soup consistency)
Other ingredients – 3 or 4 large sour fermented pickles, diced; 1 tsp dried mustard seeds; a few sprigs of fresh dill, chopped (or dry if necessary); bay leaf; salt and pepper to taste.
Boil the potatoes whole in lightly salted water until tender, then drain and let cool a bit. In your soup pot, sauté the carrots, garlic, leeks (or onions) and mustard seeds in extra virgin olive oil with a little butter. When the veggies are just tender, set the pot aside.
Puree about 2/3 of the boiled potatoes in a food processor or blender, adding enough of the vegetable stock to reach a somewhat creamy consistency. (Do not over-puree or it will become pasty. Leaving a few chunks is preferable to over-processing it.) Coarsely chop the remaining 1/3 of the potatoes. Add the potato puree, chopped potatoes and all other ingredients except the greens to the sautéed veggies in the soup pot. Adjust the ratio of stock to brine to suit your taste: if the brine seems too strong in flavor or the soup seems too thick, add more stock.
Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly so that the potato puree doesn’t stick to the pot and burn. Once the soup starts to bubble gently, stir in the chopped greens and lower the heat. Simmer for about a half hour or longer, stirring regularly, at least until the greens are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. (Caution: I love salt but generally, because of the brine and the pickles, this soup does not need added salt.)
Whenever we finish a jar of fermented pickles, I freeze the brine so that there is always some available to make this soup. If you aren’t making your own pickles, make sure that you buy pickles that have been fermented, not made in vinegar. The difference is described in my blog post on pickling.
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
Cut the unpeeled potatoes (about 3 lbs) in quarters or, for large potatoes, about six chunks each. Add 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced, about 2 tsp of dried rosemary (or the corresponding amount of fresh rosemary, but using leaves only, not the stems) and salt and pepper to taste. If you really love garlic, feel free to add more. Don't add too much rosemary, though, because it can taste bitter. Coat all this with 2 Tbsp or so of extra virgin olive oil. Roast in the oven at about 400 degrees, with frequent mixing to prevent potatoes from sticking, for about 45 min to an hour. This also works well in a convection oven at a slightly lower temperature, as suggested by your oven manufacturer. The potatoes are done when they are tender inside and have a crispy brown coating.
Sue Doctrow is a LexFarm member, CSA shareholder (2 seasons so far!), and a volunteer on the LexFarm Property Committee. She lives in Arlington, a short walk from the farm, and is also a member of the Robbins Farm Garden, a cooperative community vegetable garden in Arlington. As a biochemist, Sue is especially fascinated with her fermentation experiments.
More Ideas for Potatoes
An obvious choice is potato salad.
- Check out these templates for creating your own signature potato salad, with some suggestions to get you started, from Tasting Table, BBC GoodFood, and The Kitchn.
- Try this recipe when tomatillos and corn ripen.
- This is a nice version with olives for when the crisper drawer is empty.
Salad niçoise with green beans and potatoes is a perfect summer meal. Add chicken or the more classic tuna. You could always substitute anchovies, sardines, or salmon for the tuna or chicken, or leave them out. You’ll enjoy any variation.
Have you ever grilled potatoes? Here are three different techniques plus some recipes that use grilled potatoes.
Mix in garlicky aioli for super-rich mashed potatoes.
Add cooked cabbage to mashed potatoes for the Irish dish, colcannon.
Need a little comfort food? Roast potatoes with rosemary (which can be omitted or swapped for other herbs that stand up to roasting) or with figs and thyme.
Undecided between mashing and roasting? Try extra-crispy tossed potatoes or smashed-roasted potatoes, which combine the best of both techniques by parboiling then roasting.
For those afraid of the deep fryer, make oven-baked French fries served with curried ketchup or seasoned with paprika.
Pan fry potatoes with lemon slices.
Patatas bravas is a popular Spanish tapas snack. They are usually fried, but you can also grill parboiled potatoes.
Sauté with poblano chiles for a Mexican twist.
This rustic potato soup is topped with fried almonds.
Potatoes join green cabbage, turnips and leeks in a pot of hearty barley vegetable soup.
Potatoes are one ingredient in this winter vegetable curry that we've suggested before.
Enjoy potatoes for breakfast with roasted hash-browns, breakfast burritos, or corned beef hash.