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Potatoes for your Thanksgiving table

Red potatoes with scapes and parsley (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

In one form or another, potatoes are found on almost every Thanksgiving table. That may be because they’re a delightfully earthy, savory comfort food. They’re definitely an ideal side dish for the holiday turkey.

You’ll need about a half-pound of potatoes per person; that’s about half of a large tuber or several smaller taters. There are countless ways to prepare them. The most common are mashed or smashed, but they can be boiled, roasted, baked, even grilled or fried.

Buy local. Fresh taters are plentiful in the fall. Look for tubers that are firm, smooth, and fairly clean. Never refrigerate them; store in a cool, dark place, about 50 degrees F. Potatoes stored below 40 degrees F will become sweet as the starch turns to sugar.

Our area has ideal potato growing conditions: light, sandy soil and a cool climate. However, large chip companies are buying cheap potatoes from Mexico, so local growers must sell most of their crop in the region rather than for industrial use. The supermarket may not carry local potatoes, so purchase them fresh from the farm or from local grocers. There are still a few remaining potato farms in the area; our local produce is fresher and is free of many chemicals (herbicides and pesticides) that are present in produce grown in Central America.

While potatoes are a true Western Hemisphere food, they were unknown in North America when the Pilgrims arrived and so were not part of that first Thanksgiving feast. Along with turkey and cranberries, winter squash probably was on the menu.

Potatoes roasted with herbs (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

No matter how you make them, those spuds are loaded with carbs. But they’re also a good source of vitamins and minerals. One potato has more iron than a 3-ounce hamburger and more potassium than a banana. One serving — one-third pound, or about one medium potato — has 100 calories but provides 45 percent of the RDA for Vitamin C (although much of that is lost through heat of cooking), 21 percent of the RDA for potassium, 3 grams of fiber and 15 percent of RDA for vitamin B6, with no fat or cholesterol. The potato also contains glutathione, an antioxidant which helps protect against some types of cancer.

Today, there are many varieties of potatoes. Commercially, potatoes are grown as chippers (for potato chips) and fryers (for French fries). If you’re going to roast or boil them, waxy potatoes are great. For mashing, high-starch varieties like Russets or Yukon golds are best. They make a smooth, fluffy mash that does not become gluey or pasty.

There’s no need to peel. Skin-on potatoes are healthier and easier to prepare. Simply scrub gently and thoroughly with a vegetable brush to remove dirt.

The simplest way to serve your potatoes is to boil them. Peel or scrub them and cut into large chunks (about 1 inch). A pound of potatoes will yield about 5 cups of chunks. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Salt generously, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Test for doneness by piercing with a fork after about 15 minutes. Be sure to simmer rather than boil the potatoes, and don’t start them in boiling water; this can disintegrate the exterior. Top with butter and fresh herbs, and serve.

The most popular way to serve potatoes with your turkey is to boil and mash them. Simply boil them as above; then place in a bowl; add butter, milk, herbs and seasonings; and mash with a potato masher. They’re not a diet food but can be lightened up — and their flavor and nutrition enhanced — by mashing them together with other vegetables like parsnips, celeriac (aka celery root), cauliflower or turnips.

Potatoes with chives (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

One of the easiest ways to prepare potatoes is roasting. You can use any variety for roasting. Peeling is optional; red-skinned potatoes are best with the peel left on. To roast potatoes, cut them in 1-inch cubes. It’s best to soak them 15 to 20 minutes to remove excess starch; be sure to rinse and thoroughly dry them before coating with oil.

Add oil and toss to coat; then coat with seasonings. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and arrange your potatoes in a single layer.

For a crispy exterior and fluffy interior, a hot oven (400 to 450 degrees F) is best. At that temperature, it takes about 30 minutes for 1-inch cubes. If you’re baking something else and want to double-use the oven, you can roast them at 350 degrees F, but they will take 45 to 50 minutes to cook and will not be quite as crispy.

Roasted Potatoes

Mashed potatoes (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Ingredients:

3 pounds red or yellow skinned potatoes

1/4 cup high-quality cooking oil that takes high heat (such as corn, grapeseed, safflower or sunflower)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon paprika

Herbs and spices — basil, oregano and parsley for Italian; cumin for Mexican

Fresh herbs and cheese, optional

Directions:

Scrub potatoes. Cut into 1″ cubes.

Soak 15-20 minutes; then rinse and dry thoroughly. (This step is optional but will yield crispier potatoes.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet(s) with parchment paper (or mist with cooking spray). Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss potatoes with oil. Then add seasonings to coat.

Arrange potatoes in single layer on cookie sheets. When oven is ready, place in oven and roast for about 15 minutes; then remove from oven, flip with spatula, and return to oven for 15 more minutes. Pierce with a fork to test for doneness. Let sit for 5 minutes before putting in serving dish.

If you want to dress up your potatoes, you can add shredded Parmesan cheese and some fresh herbs for an Italian touch, or fresh minced oregano with the zest and juice of a lemon for a Greek touch. Or simply add some fresh chopped herbs like parsley, thyme, rosemary.

Serves 6 to 8.

Simple boiled potatoes

Ingredients:

3 lbs. potatoes

2 teaspoons salt

1 to 2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup fresh minced parsley

Directions:

Peel or scrub potatoes. Cut into large chunks (about 1″).

Place in a large pot and cover with cold water by 1″.

Add salt.

Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Test for doneness by piercing with a fork after about 15 minutes.

Drain. Toss with butter and fresh minced parsley (or other fresh herbs, like dill or chives).

Serve right away. Serves 6 to 8.

Basic Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

3 lbs. peeled, cubed Russet or Yukon gold potatoes

Water

2 teaspoons salt

2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup low-fat cultured buttermilk or plain yogurt or sour cream or milk

1/4 cup fresh minced parsley, dill or chives, optional

Directions:

Peel potatoes; cut into large chunks. Place in a large pot, and cover with cold water. Add salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Pierce with a fork to test for doneness.

Drain, return to pan, and shake of high heat for half a minute to evaporate excess moisture.

Cut butter into bits and sprinkle over potatoes. Pour in buttermilk. Mash with potato masher.

Mince parsley and stir in. Transfer to serving bowl.

Serves 6 to 8.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, writeyvona@gmail.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.­