Potatoes, Earthly Delights, Part 2
“What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”A. A. Milne
Potatoes, the Ultimate comfort food. In fact the Latin word for potato is Solanum tuberosum, and solanum is derived from a word that means “soothing.” It is truly divine that this comfort food is also good for you. Potatoes are the only major crop produced in the world that is complete nutritionally.
Unfortunately, this very regal vegetable was vilianized with the carbohydrate phobia that surfaced in the 90’s. They were viewed as an evil food that would make you blossom into an obese cow overnight. Where in truth, they are low in fat, calories and cholesterol and loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and B6. Spuds are also an excellent source of energy and fiber, particularly if you eat the skin. The only thing bad about potatoes is what we do to them.
Potatoes are actually going through a new renaissance with all the different varieties available that have such diverse flavors, textures and colors. Gone are the days of only being able to get Russets and red potatoes. Now you can choose from 80 different delicious varieties to tickle your taste buds. The question is; how does one pick the best potatoes for the job at hand?
For practical purposes, potatoes fall into two easy categories; baking and boiling potatoes. The major difference between these two types is the starch content in them and their skins.
Baking potatoes, which usually have a rough skin, are high in a starch called amylose. This starch breaks apart easily making a splendid fluffy baked potato or creamy mashers. Russets lead the contingency of proud bakers, followed by Goldrush, White Rose and Long White. (By the way, Idaho potatoes are russets.)
Boiling potatoes, which are also called waxy potatoes due to their smooth skin, are relatively low in a starch called amylopectin. This starch is actually a pectin that holds the potato together nicely when boiled. They are ideal for soups, casseroles, salads, gratins and grilling. Some of the well known boiling characters are any yellow, red or white potato such as Red Bliss, Russian Banana, Finish Yellow, and French Fingerlings.
To totally confuse the subject, there is actually an “all purpose” category as well. These spuds are a nice cross between the bakers and the boilers. These flexible varieties are all the purple, yellow and red fleshed potatoes like Yukon Gold, Peruvian Purples, and Cranberry Reds.
Gratins are normally one of the naughty things we do to potatoes. This wonderful gratin recipe uses blue cheese for a stronger flavor so you don’t have to use so much fatting cheese. I used Oregonzola by Rouge Creamery and it was delish! If you do not like blue cheese, substitute a sharp white cheddar cheese, like Tillamook’s Vintage White Extra Sharp. The tarragon can also be substituted for dill or any other herb that lights your fire.
Blue Cheese Potato Gratin
Adapted from Cooking light
2 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of unbleached flour
2 ½ cups of fat free milk
¾ cup of crumbled blue cheese
1 teaspoon of salt
Few cranks of black pepper
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon or
2 teaspoons of dried tarragon
3 pounds of a boiling potato cut into thin slices
½ cup of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Crank up the oven to 375 degrees and get out a small saucepan. Melt the butter over medium high heat and then sprinkle the flour over the frothy butter. Cook while stirring quickly with a whisk, for a few minutes. Then, with your third arm, gradually add the milk while still whisking. The milk and butter mix will blend together nicely, and then after a few minutes, while you are still whisking, the sauce will start to thicken. Drop in the blue cheese, a little at a time, while still whisking. After the cheese has melted, stir in the tarragon, salt and pepper. Set aside and keep your fingers out of it!
Get out your handy dandy 13 X 9 baking dish and lightly oil the bottom and sides. Arrange about 1/3 of the potato slices in the bottom, then pour about 1/3 of that yummy cheese sauce over them. Repeat with two more layers, ending with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano cheese and bake covered, for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 30 minutes or so till all bubbly and fragrant. Let it stand for about 10 minutes after you take it out of the oven, to set. Enjoy this earthly delight!