The Much-Maligned Potato

Healthy, Ingredient, Recipes
on June 5, 2012
Mark Boughton Photography

I feel obligated to show my support for the potato in this high-protein, low-carb world. After all, potatoes have been around for more than 4,500 years.
The Peruvians first cultivated them, and the conquistadors took them to Europe. We all remember our history classes where we learned about the potato famine. Spuds have a colorful background.

In our current carb-phobic society, they are considered bad for you. And I can't tell you how many people have stopped eating them. But even though they are full of complex carbs, they also supply protein, vitamins and minerals. I bet you didn't know that half a baked potato with the skin contains more potassium than a 6-ounce glass of orange juice.

Potatoes are still the world's most widely consumed vegetable. The United States alone produces about 35 million pounds of them annually. Until recently, Americans consumed almost 125 pounds of potatoes per person per year. The bad news is that this figure also includes processed potatoes that usually contain large amounts of fat, salt and other unspellable ingredients.

Although there are more than 400 varieties of potatoes, the two most common are the long russets, mostly from Idaho, and thin-skinned long white potatoes. Russets are wonderful all-purpose ones good for baking, making chips, roasting or boiling for mashed potatoes. Long whites are narrower than russets and have paper-thin skins.These are well-suited for mashing and boiling.

The other main varieties of potatoes are the round red and white smooth-skin potatoes called red bliss and creamer potatoes, respectively. Wonderful for baking, salads and oven roasting, these are my favorites to play with in my kitchen. Sometimes you will find purple creamers, Finnish potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes in the market as well. Yukon golds are yellow and have a buttery flavor.

Potatoes are always available. There is never a period when we can't buy them. I usually choose loose potatoes instead of the 5- or 10-pound bags because they are in better shape, and I can select the perfect ones I want. Lots of times, the bagged potatoes are bruised, rotten or moldy.

If you've heard that potatoes with green spots are poisonous, well, it's true — kind of. When potatoes are stored improperly, they begin to turn green and sprout, producing a chemical called solonine that is a toxin.

While in Liguria, Italy, I watched an elderly woman from a small village on the coast share an ancient recipe for sauteed kale, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and potatoes. I vividly remember how she gently cooked the chopped kale in a pot of steaming potatoes, mashed them by hand, then made a well in the top of the potato mountain to drizzle aromatic green oil into the center. I can taste them as I write this and can't wait to make them.

—By Chef Steve Petusevsky