One potato, two potato, three potato, four --
not nearly enough. Anytime I find myself with less than a solid 10-pound bag of spuds on hand, I'm a cook without her moorings. Potatoes really are nature's most nearly perfect food, and perhaps her most versatile one as well.
But if you are going to be keeping potatoes around in quantity, it's vital that you store them correctly. Don't refrigerate them. Store them in a dark, dry, cool place and eyeball them carefully before you use them because a mishandled potato can be toxic. Exposure to light, and to either very cold or fairly warm storage temperatures can produce alkaloids -- solanine and chaconine by name -- in the potatoo. These are nitrogen-containing compounds that are poisonous at high doses.
Fortunately, the potato will give you fair warning of the presence of these alkaloids by turning green. The green is not in itself poisonous, it is simply chlorophyll, which happens to form when the potato is exposed to light. The other warning sign of alkaloids is a burning, pepperlike sensation on the tongue.
If the potato is a good, strong all-over green, don't use it. But if it is only slightly green, you can peel it deeply and still use it, because most of the alkaloids concentrate within 1/16 inch of the surface. Potato sprouts are also rich in these alkaloids -- cut them out before using the potato.
Remember, these are concerns not only to the consumer, but to the home gardener: be sure your potatoes don't peek up above the soil, and be sure when you harvest them to store them correctly right away.
*The following recipe for Greek potatoes is wonderfully robust. Add a green salad with black olives and feta cheese, along with a loaf of crusty bread, and you've got a great supper. And since good mashed potatoes remain mystifying to many, here also is our favorite method. Steaming the potatoes with the peels on preserves vitamins. And you'll be amazed how nicely buttermilk "rounds out" the flavor of the potatoes; you may still want to put a little butter or gravy on them, but at least you haven't fattened them up before the fact. GREEK POTATOES (4 servings)
1 onion, chopped very fine
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups tomatoes, fresh or canned
6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
Liberal grind fresh black pepper
3 pounds baking potatoes
Saute' onion and garlic clove in oil until onion is soft and mash garlic with fork. Add bay leaf, oregano, thyme, basil and parsley, stir briefly, and add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Scrub potatoes thoroughly, remove any bad spots and sprouts, and cut into good-sized chunks, about 1 1/2 inches across. Place potatoes in a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish, then pour the sauce over them and toss until well covered.
Bake in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until potatoes test done when poked with a fork. Check toward end of cooking time to be sure you don't need to add a little water. The aim is that the potatoes will have soaked up virtually all the sauce and be rather dry -- but not, of course, blackened. MASHED POTATOES -- A NEW TWIST (6 servings)
4 pounds mature baking potatoes (4 very large)
1/2 cup buttermilk (approximately)
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
Scrub potatoes, and carefully remove bad spots and deep eyes. Cut in quarters and steam until tender, 20 minutes to half an hour.
As soon as potatoes are done, remove them from the steamer one by one and quickly remove peel with fork and fingertips. Transfer immediately to another bowl with a thick towel on top to absorb the steam (this makes for a fluffier end product). Leave all the potatoes under the towel for 5 minutes.
Heat the buttermilk slightly. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle buttermilk over the potatoes and mash with a potato masher or electric mixer. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Use leftovers for blended soups, or shepherd's pie.