Two Potato Bake

If, like me, you find sweet potatoes too sugary for many menus, this combination provides a semi-savory option.

Peel and slice on the thin side waxy white and sweet potatoes, layer in a lightly buttered casserole, gratin, or skillet–be artistic–with sprinklings of salt, pepper,  and thyme.

Brush lavishly with melted butter and bake at 350 until the tops crisp and brown.

 

Kale and Potatoes

This simple, hearty recipe is a perfect side for pork. The Irish call it calcannon, but you don’t have to.

For two servings, use one large starchy potato (russet) to a packed cup of raw, chopped kale. Cut potatoes into chunks, boil vigorously until very soft, and whip with milk and butter. These don’t have to be perfectly smooth; in fact, they’re better a little lumpy, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t).

Stew greens, drain, and toss with a melted butter. Mix potatoes and kale; season with salt and white pepper. Some people cook green onions with the kale, but they’re better as a garnish.

You can thin this basic recipe with milk or broth to make a soup, or you can spoon it into a casserole and bake with crumbled bacon and some type of dry cheese.

Pearl Potatoes

Wash and clean two pounds very small potatoes. Blot dry, toss with oil seasoned with three cloves minced garlic and a tablespoon each of onion powder, salt, and pepper. Spread in a deep pan and roast at 350, stirring every five minutes or so until the larger ones are soft through. Toss with a light vinaigrette before serving.

Yancy’s Cajun Potatoes

Cut red potatoes into chunks and boil with Zatarain’s liquid seasoning (I use a lot) until just tender. Drain  and toss with vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Bake in a well-oiled shallow pan in a hot oven, stirring until browned but not crisp.

A Bit about Spuds

 Opposition preceded the acceptance of the potato into nearly every country of Europe. The resistance of European populations to potatoes can probably best be explained by a concept then prevalent in the intellectual milieu, that being the Doctrine of Signatures.

The Doctrine of Signatures can trace its roots back to a brilliant quack named Paracelsus. Paracelsus (1493?—1541) was a Swiss physician and alchemist. His original name was Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, so of course he changed it to Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus as soon as he could (wouldn’t you?). He was both popular and controversial. On the plus side, he rejected Galen’s humeral theory of disease; on the negative side, he promulgated the Doctrine of Signatures.

Basic to this doctrine is the notion that “like cures or affects like,” which is the underlying principle of sympathetic magic. This ancient principle enjoyed such a grip on the medieval mind that even someone as astute as Plutarch might say, “Such is the nature and such the temperament (of any given creature) that it draws out and receives the malady which issues, like a stream, through the eyesight.” Plants bearing parts that resembled human body-parts, animals, or other objects were thought to have useful relevance to those parts, animals, or objects.

So if you wanted a good ruddy complexion, you’d eat beets. If you wanted a pale complexion, you’d eat mushrooms. If you wanted big tits or a big dick, you’d eat . . . well, you get the drift.

Unfortunately for the potato, the early varieties cultivated in Europe produced irregularly shaped tubers, often with white nodules and knobby finger-like growths, which to the superstitious minds then rampant recalled the swollen, deformed feet and hands of lepers. Followers of Paracelsus made much of the supposed likeness between a particular plant and the outward manifestations of a disease, but, far from becoming celebrated as a cure for leprosy, the potato became to be condemned as a cause of the disease, the outcome of a popular inversion of the principle.

How ironic that the potato, a plentiful source of starch and rich in ascorbic acid, should find itself spurned by a population that constantly lived on the brink of starvation and suffered from epidemic scurvy.

The potato had a particularly hard time in France, where the Parliament of Besançon banned the cultivation of the potato out of fear of leprosy in 1630. It was not until 1787 that the potato became acceptable, and even then mostly by virtue of its flowers. Both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette wore the blue blossoms as ornaments in an ill-fated attempt to influence public opinion towards a more favorable attitude of the vegetable, but given the couple’s incredibly poor record in public relations, it probably did more harm than good.

Catherine the Great shocked the Russian court by eating a dish of the tubers in public around the same time, and pronounced them “tres bien”. Catherine was an enlightened monarch, respected in many courts, and due to her blessings upon the potato, it was soon being used as a fermenting base for the making of vodka all over the Russian Empire. Potatoes became a staple in France (and Russia) by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and quickly became accepted throughout Europe.

On a more favorable note, perhaps at least from the vantage of this time of license, potatoes also enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac. This attribute largely came about due to its association with the sweet potato (all potatoes derive their English name from the sweet potato’s name among the Taino, batatas), which played a role in every dish intended to “incite Venus.”

Shakespeare made use of this aspect of potato lore when he wrote of the tuber in two plays written in 1597 and 1602:

FALSTAFF:
My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain potatoes, let it thunder to the tune of “Greensleeves,” hail kissing-comfits, and snow eryngoes*. Let there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here…
The Merry Wives of Windsor, V, v., 18-22

*sea-holly, Eryngium maritium, enjoyed primarily for its roots, candied with sugar and orange-flower water which, as Evelyn noted in his diary, were a specialty of Colchester, and esteemed an aphrodisiac.

THERSITES:
How the devil Luxury, with his fat rump and potato finger, tickles these together. Fry, lechery, fry!
Troilus and Cressida, V, ii., 54-56

Potatoes were sold in the streets in 1617 when John Fletcher penned this bit:

I have fine potatoes,
Ripe potatoes!
Will your Lordship please to taste a fine potato?
`Twill advance your wither’d state,
Fill your Honour full of noble itches.
The Loyal Subject III, v.

Deli Breakfast Potatoes

Our deli serves these potatoes—along with two kinds of grits and rice—as sides on its breakfast buffet. Cube red potatoes and parboil before pan-frying with diced onions, celery, and sweet peppers. Season with salt and pepper. In other parts of the country, these are known as diner or O’Brian potatoes, but I don’t live in those parts.

Green Pea and Potato Vinaigrette

Quarter, parboil, and drain small red potatoes. Blanch fresh or frozen peas; you want them al dente. Mix with potatoes, diced scallions, chopped parsley, and toss in a Creole mustard vinaigrette. Chill thoroughly, and top with coarsely black pepper before serving.

Scalloped Two Potatoes

If, like me, you find sweet potatoes too sugary for many menus, then this combination of sweet with regular spuds provides a semi-savory option. Use any waxy white potato. Peel and slice potatoes on the thinner side, layer in an oiled casserole, gratin, or skillet with sprinklings of salt, pepper,  and thyme. Add enough whole cream to saturate, but not cover. Brush lavishly with melted butter, and bake at 350 until the top crispens and browns.

Lemon Potatoes

This is (purportedly) a Greek dish. Cat Cora recommends Yukon golds in her recipe, but says that her family used canned potatoes in their Jackson, Mississippi, restaurants. Mix well equal parts of chicken broth, olive oil, and lemon juice. Add oregano, minced garlic, and salt to taste. Cut waxy potatoes—yellow is pretty—into wedges, toss with seasoning mixture, and bake—stirring occasionally—in a very hot oven until crispy.