I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them. --Nora Ephron
I have long felt that the potato is a friendly vegetable. Unassuming, dependable, its carbohydrate-packed goodness puts you at ease. It’s not fussy; in fact, the potato is equally happy in posh surroundings, dressed to the nines, as it is in a down-home diner, blanketed with country gravy.
The typical potato may endure any number of indignities, far more than most other vegetables: poked before baking, roasted until its skin blisters, suffocated with mayonnaise, cut with sharp implements, and in trendy culinary circles, “smashed,” all by people who simultaneously proclaim their love and affection.
But the potato is unwavering in its desire to please. You can subject potatoes to all varieties of manipulations and mistreatments and still be hard-pressed to find a dud of a spud.
Despite their rough-and-tumble appearance, potatoes require a dose of TLC to keep them comfortable before they rendezvous in the kitchen. Most importantly, remove them from their plastic bags as soon as you’re home from the market (plastic will make the potatoes mold quite quickly). Storing them with onions and garlic will also hasten mold production.
Finally, think about temperature: an overly warm area will cause softening, shriveling and sprouting within a few days. Before you skip to the ‘fridge, slow down. Cold storage produces a funny, sweet taste, the result of the potato starch converting to sugar. The best choice is a cool, dark, dry place, such as the back of a pantry.
Potato dishes are countless, but I’m offering just one to accompany this post: a recipe for potato-leek soup, pushed into the realm of decadence with a bit of bacon and a sprinkle of blue cheese. Potato soup may not be revolutionary, but this version is remarkably delicious, satisfying, and (hallelujah), still light.
Potato-Leek Soup with Blue Cheese and Bacon
Decadence. Pure decadence. That’s what this soups both sounds and tastes like. But hurrah, it is still enlightened. The trick? I use just enough bacon and blue cheese for flavor, and replace the heavy cream with canned, fat-free evaporated milk. You’ll be thrilled with the results.
I’m a fan of Yukon Gold potatoes, for this soup and for roasting and mashing (in a pinch, though, good old russets will do, too). Yukon Gold spuds were created in Canada (Hence the name) and became almost instantly popular because their pale yellow flesh looks and tastes as if it has been slathered with butter.
2 slices bacon, chopped
4 large leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
5 and 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 12-ounce can fat free evaporated milk
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup minced chives or green onions
Cook the bacon in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat until bacon is crisp; transfer bacon to paper towels to drain (do not pour off fat from pan).
Add the leeks to pot, turn heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the potato and broth; bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the evaporated milk, blue cheese and nutmeg and simmer for 10 minutes longer.
Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, then return it to the pan. Season the soup with salt and pepper, garnish with chives and cooked bacon and serve. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/6 of the soup, about 1 and 1/2 cups):Calories 176; Fat 1.1g (sat 0.3g, mono 0.4g, poly 0.2g); Protein 7.3g; Cholesterol 2.3mg; Carbohydrate 25.5g; Sodium 595.3mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Vegetarian Option: You can easily convert this soup to a vegetarian meal by using vegetable broth in place of chicken broth, and by skipping the bacon and instead cooking the leeks in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Nutrition Notes for Leeks:Leeks, like their cousins, onions, are nutritional stars, offering plenty of potassium, some folic acid, beta-carotene (in the green stems) and vitamin C. They may also help to reduce cholesterol levels and offer some protection against cancer.