Our mothers and grandmothers thought of all potatoes as interchangeable. They’d bake or boil whatever they found in the grocery store for dinner. That grocery store didn’t offer many choices, just the same mealy Russets, waxy red-skinned tubers and gnarly spuds from Maine, earth still clinging to them, week after week.
Fast forward a couple of generations, and we have learned to get better flavor and texture if we treat potatoes as individuals. We don’t need to settle for only three or four variations. The produce section of the supermarket heaps up a revolving rainbow of potatoes every week, including yellow Yukon golds, white creamers, Peruvian purples and sandy brown Russets. And sizes from new potatoes as small as pearl onions to Russets as nearly large as footballs. (OK, I exaggerated.)
Writers have dreamed up entire cookbooks featuring nothing but potatoes. We still like to pair them with sour cream and bacon, but we can apply those ingredients to Yukon golds turned into potato soup instead of plain-old baked Russets.
We still mash them, but know we can avoid peeling if we use pretty red-skinned potatoes. And we can skip the butter and cream in those mashed potatoes, getting them to equal deliciousness using golden olive oil and a few cloves of garlic instead.
Today’s cooks feel confident enough to experiment with grandma’s scalloped potato recipe, adding two extra cheeses to her basic white cheddar while sticking with her Idahoes, now better than ever thanks to improved agricultural techniques. I’ve used blue and Parmesan cheeses with the cheddar here, but I’m not afraid to shake up my own recipe with a little gouda or smoked Havarti or asiago.
Three hot potato recipes follow:
ROASTED POTATO SOUP WITH SOUR CREAM AND BACON
Makes 4 to 8 servings
• 4 thin-skinned medium potatoes, e.g. Yukon gold, skin-on, sliced 1/4-inch thick
• 2 t olive oil
• Salt, ground black pepper
• 6 thyme sprigs
• 6 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 2 T minced chives
Heat oven to 375 F. Toss the potatoes in oil and a half teaspoon salt. Spread them on a rimmed baking sheet; bake uncovered until tender, 35 minutes. Transfer to a pot.
Pour 1 cup boiling water into the baking sheet; swirl to deglaze, then pour the water into the pot with potatoes. Add 5 cups boiling water and thyme sprigs; cover tightly and set aside for 1 hour. Meanwhile, cook the bacon until crisp. Set aside to drain on paper towels.
Remove and discard thyme from the pot. Puree the potato mixture until smooth, adding more water if too thick. Add salt and pepper. Reheat the soup over low heat.
Pour the hot soup into bowls. Dollop with sour cream; sprinkle with bacon and chives.
Page 2 of 2 - OLIVE OIL AND GARLIC MASHED POTATOES
Makes 6 to 8 servings
• 3 pounds medium red-skinned potatoes, skin on
• 3 large cloves garlic, inner skin on
• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus additional if needed
• Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Bring the potatoes and garlic to a boil in a pot with enough water to cover. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes only to the pot, cooking for just a minute or two to evaporate extra moisture.
Transfer potatoes to a mixing bowl. Squeeze the garlic from the skins; add to the potatoes. Beat with an electric mixture until fluffy. (Do not use a food processor.) Then beat in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.
SCALLOPED POTATOES WITH THREE CHEESES
Makes 12 servings
A cook actually can hold potatoes for about 30 minutes before bringing them to the table: Let them stand at room temperature. Cover and re-warm in 375 F oven, 20 minutes.
• 3/4 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar
• 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
• 4 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
• Salt, pepper, to taste
• 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
• 3 T all-purpose flour
• 1/2 stick butter
• 3 cups whole milk
Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly butter a baking dish. Mix cheeses in a bowl.
Arrange half of potatoes in baking dish, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle onion over, then four. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle half the cheese mixture over. Top with remaining potatoes, salt, pepper, butter and cheese.
Bring milk to a simmer. Pour milk over potatoes (it will not cover completely). Cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Uncover dish (liquids may look curdled). Sprinkle potatoes with cheese mixture. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and cheese is deeply golden, about 45 minutes.
Let stand about 15 minutes before serving.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.