Flashier produce distracted us at summer farmers markets. Shades of orange from the cucurbita family -squash and pumpkins - dominated our plates in the fall. With winter settling in, we can finally turn our attention to the belle of 2008. The United Nations has dubbed this the Year of the Potato.
Few ingredients are as accessible, universal, and versatile as the potato. Consider pommes frites, gratin, latkes, mashed potatoes, kartoffelkoesse, aloo paratha. Through famine and feast, the potato has traveled from the Andes Mountains to its indispensable place in our home and professional kitchens. Here are some facts to inspire a tuber reevaluation.
-The potato is the world's third most important food crop after rice and wheat.
-One medium potato provides about half the daily requirement of vitamin C. Sailors ate potatoes to prevent scurvy.
-The Incas believed potatoes could make childbirth easier and heal injuries. The Scots at one time refused to eat potatoes because they weren't mentioned in the Bible.
-The potato is related to the tomato, chili, and tobacco. Every family has a black sheep.
- There are more than 200 species and almost 5000 varieties of potatoes. Culinary favorites include the antioxidant-rich Purple Majesty, creamy heirloom German Butterballs, and nutty La Ratte varieties. Ronniger Potato Farm in Austen, Colorado is a recognized authority, and their catalog is a good place to learn more about heirloom varieties (http://www.ronnigers.com/
* Potato facts provided by Centro Internacional de La Papa (http://www.cipotato.org/
), and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking