The seed catalogs have been arriving for about six weeks now, and, even though I drool over all the varieties of tomatoes, peppers, kale, basil, etc., I’m also quite enraptured by the varied types of the lowly potato. And then Barbara did her great blogs on fresh veggie markets in Mexico (with potato pictures), and today, the local potato lady came into my office and I bought 5 lbs. of some red-skinned potatoes, so it seemed synchronous, indeed, that I wanted to blog about the, truly, less-than-lowly potato.
Consider: The potato has been lauded as the world’s most important vegetable, producing more nourishing food per acre than any other planted crop. Potatoes grow all over the world, and contain every vital nutrient except for calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin A, so you could potentially live on them if you had to. And, maybe, making mashed potatoes with milk would add those extra nutrients. (Check out this interesting history of potatoes for lots more info.)
And, they’re pretty – artful, almost – coming in just about every color imaginable. Depending on who’s the source, and where you look, you’ll find that there are from between 4,000 to 7,000 different potato varieties, even if we’re only exposed to a handful here in this country.
Thinking about living on nothing but potatoes initially made me cringe a little, because I like variety. And then I thought about the amazing versatility of preparation methods for the potato. I mean, think about it – what other vegetable can be prepared in so many scrumptious ways? You’ve got your steamed, baked, mashed, boiled, French fried, grilled, roasted, scalloped, home-fries, hash browns, dumplings, potato pancakes, lefse, potatoes Anna, soups (including vichyssoise), dauphine, aloo gobi (anyone see Bend it Like Beckham?), samosas …… and I’ve just scratched the surface.
One of our favorite and simple potato dishes is what we call, Mary Jo’s potatoes. We first had these at her house …. maybe 30(+) years ago? …. on Thanksgiving, and it’s been our tradition to make them every Thanksgiving since. Of course, they’re good any time of year, and make an easy casserole dish to take to a potluck, or to whip up for a Superbowl Party.
Here’s what you do: Take about 5 pounds of potatoes and boil them, covered, in a large pot in slightly salted water. Poke the potatoes with a fork after about 15 minutes. If they’re still really hard, boil for another 5 to 10 minutes. You just want them slightly soft. Not as soft as you’d want if you were making mashed potatoes.
Drain and cool the spuds, peel off the skins (they make great fried potato skins the next morning), and then, using a coarse grater, grate them into a lightly greased casserole dish.
Even out the potatoes in the dish, and then add whipping cream (the good stuff!) to about half-cover the potatoes. Don’t pour cream all the way to the top – just half way.
Top with some salt and pepper.
and bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for …. 35 to 45 minutes. Check periodically to see if the potatoes are bubbling and starting to brown.
The nice thing about these spuds – other than their taste and ease of preparation – is that you can make them several days in advance of an event. Just refrigerate and reheat via microwave or conventional oven.
Mary Jo got this recipe from her friend, Barbara, so she calls them “Barbara’s potatoes,” but, of course, for us, they will always be Mary Jo’s potatoes, and always bring back great memories.