What comes to mind when you think of potatoes? Visions of rolling, verdant hills, fisherman’s knit sweaters, and warm corner pubs fill my mind. As an Irish American, I tend to think my culture “owns” the spud. In reality the potato is the staple of a majority of the world's diets. And though it’s been adopted by many cultures, its birthplace is believed to be southern Peru and northwestern Boliva where it was first domesticated between 8000 and 5000 BC. After the Spanish conquered the Incan Empire the potato made its way to Europe sometime during the 16th century. It spread throughout that continent and worldwide port locales.
Back in South America where thousands of varieties of the beloved tuber exist it remained a reliable food source. But only a few varieties made the journey to the “Old World.” Potatoes there did not have the genetic diversity to resist disease. Eventually a fungus spread through European potato crops. In 1845 Ireland was hit especially hard by the blight, which was one of the triggers of the Great Irish Diaspora, and one reason why I am an American.
Amazingly, potatoes can sustain humans when they are supplemented with simple sources of vitamins A and D like milk or butter. Personally, I could live on a steady diet of that! And I’m not alone. The potato is an important crop throughout Europe and has infiltrated Asia and India.
Each region where potatoes exist has put its own unique stamp on the staple leaving us rich with delicious ways to enjoy our “spuds.” A simple baked potato slathered in butter makes me happy. But there are many more creative ways to use taters.
My mom made a fabulous potato salad. I love to serve it in the summer time as a cold and filling side dish. I’ve also played around with purple potatoes. Their small size, sweet filling and interesting color add surprising hues and taste to a dish. We used them in the College Rave Week of recipes in Easy Weekly Meals for College Students. Steamed red-skinned potatoes topped with melted butter, chopped parsley and salt compliment corned beef on St. Paddy’s Day. You can find a quick and easy recipe for this dish in Easy Weekly Meals for Moms on the Go.
Last week I played around with the idea of potato pizza to emulate the pizza rustica I used to buy on the streets of Rome when studying there more than a quarter century ago. The result was a creamy and crunchy potato pie with splashes of tomato, mushrooms, olives and cheese. Delicious! And it only took me 15 minutes to assemble it.
Tonight I’m going to introduce my spuds to Indian flavors and techniques. I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Meanwhile, be sure you find a fun way to celebrate National Potato Day!