Potatoes one of world’s most important crops

September 14, 2018

Trapped inside during the recent bout of relentless rainstorms, I wasn’t ready to run out to the grocery for dinner ingredients. Fortunately, there were some pork chops in the freezer, carrots in the crisper and a bag of baby potatoes on hand. While we watched a variety of sports programs through the weekend, we had plenty to eat, including the dish of roasted carrots and potatoes in the photo.                             

Potatoes are considered one of the world’s most important vegetable crops, and the tuber we eat today is quite different from its wild ancestors cultivated in the Andes Mountains thousands of years ago. The Spanish brought the potato to Europe in the 16th century, and the Irish brought the potato to America in the early 1700s.

We’ve long associated Idaho with potato farming in this country, so it might come as a surprise to learn that first crop of potatoes was grown in New Hampshire. Although Idaho remains the largest producer, there are 30 other states where potatoes are grown. When you look at statistics published by Departments of Agriculture at the national or state level, Delaware isn’t listed as a potato producer.

However, if you visit a farmers market or roadside stand during the autumn months, you’ll be sure to find piles of new potatoes. From multicolored beauties to fingerlings to miniature white potatoes, there are plenty to choose from. Larger grocery stores and supermarkets have also discovered their customers’ interest in a greater variety of potatoes, now offering more choices beyond the basic 5-pound bags.

When you’re selecting which type of potatoes to purchase, you’ll need to consider what you’re going to do with them. Starchy or floury potatoes are best for frying, baking and mashing. This group includes the familiar Russet and Idaho potatoes. Their high starch content gives them a golden-brown color when they’re fried, and their starch granules swell during boiling to give you the fluffiest mashed texture.

Waxy potatoes are higher in moisture and lower in starch, helping them hold their shape well. Their firm yet creamy texture makes them the best choice for roasting, salads and casseroles. Red-skinned, blue, purple and fingerling potatoes are all examples of waxy potatoes. If you’re not sure which to select, reach for Yukon gold potatoes, which are a medium-starch, all-purpose potato.

When I assembled the ingredients for the roasted potatoes and carrots, I wanted to make sure all the pieces were about the same size so they would cook in the same amount of time. Some of the larger potatoes were halved, and the carrots were chopped into 1/2-inch pieces. You could make this dish with any waxy potato, as long as the chop was uniform.

The potatoes and carrots were tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary in the baking pan. I chose rosemary for its earthy flavor notes, but an Italian herb blend or Florida seasoned pepper would also work. I covered the pan with foil for the first 15 minutes to trap a little steam, then uncovered it for the remainder of the cooking time.

For our next meal, I separated the carrots and potatoes to create two different sides. The potatoes were tossed in a skillet with butter and chopped onions for a version of hash browns. The carrots were heated in a saucepan with some broth, then transformed into a carrot purée with the help of an immersion blender. 

Once you have the carrot purée, you can create even more options. Depending on the consistency, you could either pipe the carrots into decorative designs with a pastry bag or add more broth to make a tasty soup. From a few pounds of vegetables, you can enjoy several delicious side dishes.

Roasted Potatoes & Carrots

1 lb carrots
1 1/2 lbs baby potatoes*
1 T olive oil
salt & pepper
1 t dried rosemary  
1 T fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400F. Coat the inside of a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Peel the carrots and cut into 1/2-inch pieces; place them in the prepared pan. Halve or quarter any of the potatoes larger than an inch in diameter and add to the pan. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil, then toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with rosemary and toss to distribute. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes; remove foil and continue baking until vegetables are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Yield: 6 to 8 servings. *Note: select waxy potatoes, such as fingerlings, red-skinned or golden.

Roasted Carrot Soup

2 lbs carrots
1 chopped onion
1 T olive oil
salt & pepper
1 t butter
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 C vegetable stock
snipped chives

Preheat oven to 400F. Trim carrots into 1-inch rounds and toss with 1 T olive oil and chopped onion in a baking pan. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes. When carrots and onions are cooked, melt butter in a saucepan; add shallots and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add roasted carrots, onions and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender, purée the mixture until smooth, adding more broth if needed to reach desired consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper; garnish with snipped chives. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. Note: Change the flavor profile of this soup with the addition of different spices, e.g., cumin, paprika or curry.