Potatoes

As the weather cools, we all seem to drift to foods that stick to our ribs. Nothing quite fills this bill like potatoes. Farmers’ markets and groceries are full of earthy potatoes of all varieties from traditional russets to Yukon golds to Norland Reds to a multitude of purple, pink and yellow fingerlings.

We’ve been warned off of potatoes because of the calories and the misinformation that the starch is bad for us. Actually, potatoes are quite good nutritionally, with loads of vitamin C, potassium and fiber and few calories. It’s all the “stuff” we put on them that takes the calorie and fat count higher.

Yukon golds are buttery and tender; russets tend to be drier and hold up better to mashing. Fingerlings and reds are delicious when roasted with garlic and rosemary. Keep the skins on for extra flavor and nutrition.

Best of all, potatoes are adaptable to hundreds of recipes so it’s possible to have them every night of the week and not get tired of them. One of our go-to dinners is a baked potato and a big salad. You can load the potato with cooked lentils and feta, sliced tomatoes and avocado, chili, or just good old butter and pepper.

Potatoes are natural companions to cheese and butter, and they also make a luscious potato salad when dressed warm with a vinaigrette or when baked as potato skins topped with guacamole and salsa.

This recipe for scalloped potatoes is basic. Dress it up as you see fit. It adapts well to added sauteed kale or chard, mushrooms, roasted peppers or sun-dried tomatoes. Experiment with different cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere or goat cheese. Add herbs and seasonings to taste – basil, marjoram, smoked paprika, Italian or Cajun seasoning.

Easy roasted potatoes

To serve two, scrub 1-2 pounds of fingerlings or red potatoes. Leave the skins on and slice or quarter depending on the size of the potatoes.

Toss the cut potatoes with 2-3 tablespoons of fruity olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Place the potatoes, cut side down, in one layer in a shallow baking pan. Lay three or four sprigs of fresh rosemary on top. Put on the lowest rack in a cold oven. Turn on the heat to 425 and roast until tender, usually about half an hour. No need to turn the potatoes over. Remove the rosemary and serve warm or at room temperature.

Scalloped potatoes

Scalloped potatoes with spinach

1 garlic clove, halved
6 medium peeled (or unpeeled) potatoes, cut into 1/8 inch slices
2 T. butter, melted
1/2 t. salt
pepper
1/2 c. shredded cheese
1 c. skim milk

Rub an 11 x 7 baking dish with cut sides of garlic, discard. Spray with cooking spray. Arrange half of the potatoes in a dish, drizzle with half butter, salt, pepper and cheese. Repeat for another layer. Bring milk to a boil and pour over potatoes. Bake uncovered at 425 for 40 minutes.

Root Vegetable Medley

Root hash with a fried egg and sriracha sauce

I had a wonderful dish in a local restaurant shortly after I moved to Asheville. I subsequently found out that root hash is served in many restaurants here, with breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Fresh parsnips

It was meltingly delicious, heartbreakingly full of umami, so I decided to duplicate it. This time of year root crops are plentiful and delicious – parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips and even radishes. All of these combine beautifully, and when roasted, they take on a subtle smokiness that softens their pungency. 

Carrots, parsnips, beets and garlic ready to chop

Use any combination of roots

You can use any combination of root vegetables, including potatoes and sweet potatoes. Apples give it a kiss of sweetness; onions give it a savory bite. And if you want to really go wild, add celeriac or parsley root. I have to say, the word hash conjures up a gloppy mess, a muddle or mess. Let’s call it a melange, medley, alliage, amalgam or even simply a blend. 

Prep work is key

The key to a good hash is to cut the pieces all the same size and shapes so they will cook evenly. And the smaller the better. It may seem like a lot of work to cut everything into ½” squares, but you’ll be happy you did when they come out of the oven perfectly roasted. 

Chopped roots ready to roast

Roast away!

Once your pieces are pared, you simply need to toss the vegetables with olive oil and minced garlic if you like. There’s no need to salt until they come out of the oven. Roast at 375. Stir them up and turn over a bit after 15 minutes and continue to roast for another 15 minutes, until they are tender when pierced with a fork.

Root hash roasting

Root hash (medley) makes a delicious side dish in itself, or a main dish when sprinkled with feta cheese, toasted nuts and scallions. Pair it with a salad with a pungent vinaigrette dressing and a slab of sourdough bread. I love it topped with a fried egg. 

Roasted Root Vegetable Medley

2-3 cups cubed (½” cubes) parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, onions, celeriac, parsley root. Just about any combination is delicious. If using large beets, throw them into the microwave for a few minutes to soften them since they are denser than the other vegetables. Red beets will stain the hash, so golden or Chioggia beets will make a more attractive dish. 

2 T. good quality olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and garlic. Spread in a single layer on a roasting pan or cookie sheet with sides. Or use a cast iron pan as long as you can make only one layer. Roast about 15 minutes and then stir. Roast another 15-20 minutes until vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and salt and pepper liberally. 

Spanish omelet

Tortilla Espanola

Sometimes you just want something different for breakfast. Or lunch. I love a good frittata, made with eggs and just about anything else you want to put in it. A great alternative, similar to a frittata, but with a little more substance is a Spanish omelet. It’s still fairly light, but warm and buttery and rich with potatoes, the ultimate comfort food. 

One of my favorite memories was a late summer evening meal on the beach with good friends. She served a Spanish omelet and fresh fruit salad and then followed it with Romeo y Julieta (cream cheese and guava paste on crisp crackers). Delicious food, good Spanish wine and dear friends.  Watching the sunset over the lake was an experience I’ll never forget. 

Spanish omelet or tortilla Espanola

Called a tortilla in Spanish cooking, the classic recipe is made with potatoes, onions and eggs. But you can add anything your heart desires to the recipe. 

My riff on the classic

1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly

1 lb red potatoes, not peeled, sliced thinly

3 eggs

½ c. sliced mushrooms

½ c. sliced red sweet peppers

½ c. sliced swiss chard

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Use an 8” cast iron pan if you have one. Otherwise, any stovetop-to-oven pan. You can also use a round cake or stoneware pan but you will need to vary the cooking slightly since you can’t use these on the stovetop. 

Cook potatoes in salted water, drain and cool. 

Saute onion until soft in a splash of olive oil. Add mushrooms, peppers and chard and saute briefly until tender. Cool slightly. 

Whisk eggs and 1 t. Salt. Add potatoes and vegetables and toss until coated with eggs. 

Add a bit more oil to the pan, pour in the egg and vegetable mix, and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Put in the oven for 20 minutes until eggs are set. 

Remove from the oven and flip upside down on a plate. Serve in wedges, hot, room temperature or cold. 

Kalecannon

This time of year cabbage and kale are plentiful and nutritious. It’s also time to think about getting those transplants ready for the garden. The cold weather doesn’t bother these hearty (and hardy) plants. 

Redbor kale

All members of the cole family are troubled by cabbage moths, so be ready when your transplants go out to cover them with row covers or be vigilant about treating with Bt, a bacterium specific to butterfly and moth larvae (available at most garden centers). 

Now to the best part – eating!

Whether Chinese cabbage such as bok choi or napa,  round head red or green cabbage, Winterbor, red Russian or laciniato kale, they all can make a wonderful riff on the traditional Irish colcannon. 

This true comfort food is simply made with mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale. It sounds unusual, but I’ll guarantee that there’s something magical about the combination of earthy potatoes and sweet cabbage or kale.  

Start with mashed potatoes

And as great as it is just as the Irish make it, there are so many other things you can add to it to make it even more delicious. You simply make mashed potatoes as you always have (add cream cheese when mashing for more richness).

Choose your vegetables

Then saute vegetables of your choice – kale, swiss chard, chinese cabbage, traditional cabbage, eggplant, zucchini, broccoli – with some onion and a bit of garlic until slightly tender.

Kalecannon

Mix with the mashed potatoes and bake. It makes a perfect side dish to any main course, and is a delicious vegetarian entree all by itself. 

Feel free to add and subtract as your palate desires. You can substitute half the potatoes with parsnips, add carrots or peppers. You can also top the dish with cheddar, gouda or parmesan cheese for a different flavor. If you like, top the dish with bread crumbs or panko before baking. 

Kalecannon 

Serve six as a side or four as a main dish 

4 medium russet potatoes (about two and a half pounds), peeled and cut into chunks. You can use reds or yellow potatoes for a different flavor

2 T. salt (sounds like a lot, but you are salting the water which will give the potatoes just enough saltiness

4 T. butter or 2 T. butter and 2 T. cream cheese

Approximately 1 c. milk or cream

3 c. chopped kale, cabbage, chard, or other leafy green

3 green onions or one small leek, chopped finely

1 clove garlic, minced (optional)

½ c. chopped sweet red pepper or mix in a little hot pepper if you like

In a medium -sized saucepan, put the potato chunks and cover with cold water by an inch. Add salt and bring to a boil.  potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil. Boil until a fork easily pierces the potatoes, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well.

Saute vegetables

Preheat the oven to 425. Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the greens. Saute about three minutes. Add the onions or leeks and any other vegetables and cook another minute. Set aside.

Mash and bake

Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or mixer, using enough milk or cream to make them creamy but not runny. Combine with the vegetables and salt and pepper to taste. Smooth into an oiled casserole dish and add cheese and/or breadcrumbs if using. Bake about 30 minutes until the mixture is bubbly. Let stand ten minutes and enjoy!