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Potato power

The hardy and humble spud can also be transformed into an elegant chilled soup.

Joanne Ciccarello/ Staff

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In the United States, potatoes, in their unassuming way, have been an integral part of dinner. For decades the country has been known as the land of meat and potatoes. Even today, whenever comfort foods are mentioned, mashed potatoes top the list. Is there anyone out here who does not love potatoes? Mashed, baked, fried, boiled, scalloped: The versatility of the spud is legendary.

Unbelievably, there are perhaps 5,000 varieties of potatoes in various shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors. Potatoes come in three basic categories:

Boilers: These are low in starch. They're waxy, thin-skinned, and moist. Because they hold their shape when cooked, they work especially well in stews, soups, and salads.

Bakers: These are prized for their dry, snowy, fluffy flesh and crisp skins. A baked Russet, when added to stews and soups, will quickly break down and bring a rich thickness to the dish.

All-purpose: These are a mixed bag of potatoes that have a moderate amount of starch and moisture. They work well boiled or baked. Yukon gold is one of the most popular.

Store potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place and use them before they discolor or start sprouting. They should never be refrigerated or frozen. Potatoes exposed to sunlight will develop a greenish cast and become bitter. When possible, leave the skins on when using them in recipes, as they add flavor and nutrition. The flesh of potatoes will darken when exposed to air, so cover cut potatoes with water unless they are to be cooked immediately.

VICHYSSOISE

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