Gotta love potatoes, which are not only comforting, versatile and easy to cook, but also always in season. Well, not really. There is a difference between those just harvested and potatoes stored in the bin for months. Fresh potatoes from nearby farms reflect the quality of the soil in which they are grown, like potatoes from the Driftless Area along the Mississippi River that evoke the mineral essence of its limestone cliffs.
Potatoes are the world’s most popular vegetable and the fourth-biggest crop (after wheat, corn and rice). The world of potatoes is defined by the spud’s starch content. Low-starch, high-moisture or waxy potatoes (aka boiling potatoes) are great for gratins and potato salad. These can turn gummy when whipped for mashed potatoes. High-starch potatoes (aka bakers) puff up to be light and fluffy in the oven and when boiled make terrific, airy mashers. Medium-starch potatoes such as Yukon Gold and Yellow Finn and Red Bliss are great in just about any dish.
No matter what the variety, new potatoes, about 1½ inches in diameter, are best when cooked quickly and treated delicately. Once blanched, they are wonderful in stir fries, sautés and salads, and can take the place of pasta or rice in any dish. Their natural starches help thicken the sauce and enrich a soup or stew.
Potatoes are a natural in curry recipes. They’ll turn a lovely gold, thanks to the spices, provide a neutral balance to the curry’s heat, and make a vegetarian meal more substantial. The potatoes can be cooked ahead and then added just before the dish is served. Unlike more mature potatoes that can be stored in a cool, dark place for several months, new potatoes turn soft and rancid quickly. Enjoy them now before they grow up!
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking instructor.