Oh, The Potato!

Winter is here – there is over a foot of snow on the ground, and it’s cold. So cold it takes your breath away and stings your skin. These are the days you want to stay inside where it’s warm and cook something tasty.

Winter is a time of hearty fare – root vegetables, winter greens, beans. Potatoes are one of my favorite things to eat when it’s cold outside. They’re cheap, they’re easy to prepare and they’re good. And you can do more with them than bake them and mash them up.

You can, of course, dress up old favorites. Scalloped potatoes with ham is an old standby. I like to add diced chardonnay-marinated tomatoes and scallions to mine. Or you could add caramelized onions on top. Or broccoli and shredded carrot. Or switch the ham with crumbled bacon or thickly cut prosciutto. Steamed kale with a healthy dose of fried garlic would be another good addition.

Roasted potatoes are another standby – and they’re the perfect blank canvas. I’m always tempted to smother them in herbs de provence and onion powder because they’re so wonderful that way, but you can go in many different directions here as well. Mix in crumbled cooked Italian sausage, parsley, rosemary and thyme with caramelized red onions and you’ve got a nice lunch – maybe add a winter greens salad alongside. Or just fry them in a little olive oil for plain old home fries – a nice side to some scrambled eggs and a breakfast steak. Or do something a little different – toss them in Chinese five spice powder and serve with pork chops. Any kind of herb and spice combination will work!

And of course potato soup – the final member of the potato-standby-trinity. It takes all the same additions as the scalloped potatoes, in any combination you could want. I love to put balsamic vinegar on top of leek and potato soup – so you can switch up the condiments instead – maybe cabernet sauvignon or malt vinegar. Seasoned croutons. Anything crispy or crumbly to sprinkle on top – bacon, garlic, fried onions, blue cheese if you’re one of those people that can eat dairy.

And then there are the potato dishes most of us don’t think of eating every day – potato pancakes (latkes), Shepherd’s pie (not the scary gloopy stuff you had as a kid!), simple boiled parslied new potatoes (which are wonderful with assorted sausages and sauerkraut) an even potato tarts. Epicurious has a great recipe for Vegetable Torte (for those of us that can’t have dairy, switch the milk with plain soymilk and leave out the cheese). This torte would be fabulous for a dinner party. And don’t forget the pot pie – potatoes can really star here. Make them the main ingredient and vary your seasoning – maybe ham and thyme with a splash of red wine vinegar, or potatoes with a curry sauce and green peas. You can’t go wrong by putting things into a pie crust. Or instead of doing a formal pot pie, do the same thing in a pocket, like an empanada or pasty.

So when it’s cold, your short on cash, or you just really want a good hearty meal to dig into, break out the potatoes!