Advice from a magical kitchen to yours.
Every week, the Kitchen Witch answers your culinary questions with an eye towards seasonal, sustainable cooking. Ask your question by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ECkitchenwitch.
Dear Kitchen Witch:
My husband bought ten pounds of russet potatoes last month, and although we’re having a weekly Baked Potato Dinner night, we still have so many potatoes left, and some of them are threatening to sprout. What are some other ways to use up these potatoes before they turn into plants that make even more potatoes we can’t finish?
—The Spuds Have Eyes
First of all, wow, okay, that’s a lot of potatoes and I hope your husband does not make a habit out of this behavior. Second of all, I see your dilemma. My usual solution for excess produce, making something you can freeze, is not the greatest for potatoes, which tend to degrade in texture when frozen. That said, if you’ve already thoroughly degraded the texture on purpose—by, say, mashing your starchy friends—you can get away with batch cooking them and freezing for future meals. Make sure you use plenty of fat for the best results. If you boil up the potatoes for this, you can save the potato water and some of the mashed plain potatoes to make potato bread—great for sandwiches (and also freezes well!).
Potatoes can be bland and thus easy to get sick of, but the good news is that they’re also highly adaptable to many cooking methods, absorb and go well with a huge range of flavors, and also pretty good for you—though you can certainly change that with the potato’s most delicious friends, butter and cream. Please note that making potatoes truly interesting and delicious will almost always require various kinds of grunt work: peeling, slicing, precooking, mashing, etc. May I gently suggest that you have a convenient source of labor for such projects on hand in the shape of the man who chose to haul home 10 pounds of potatoes?
One small note: If your potatoes have in fact sprouted by the time you get around to cooking them, either admit defeat (if the potato is soft or wrinkly, toss it) or be prepared to trim them well to remove the sprouty bit. Also be sure to cut away any green tinge under the skin, which can be mildly toxic and doesn’t taste good in any case. The good news here is that potatoes are cheap and if you waste a little bit of them, oh well. Cutting away a thick whack of the skin is at least easier than peeling more closely.
I’d strongly suggest looking around the world for inspiration here and to change up what can be a bland starch base for a meal. Spicy patatas bravas from Spain are a great nibble or side. Iberia is a good source: tortilla espanola, the classic frittata-like egg and potato dish, is a great vegetarian main dish and also, once cold, portable for lunches and the like. Green potatoes, based on a Canary Islands preparation, will also add zest to your potato repertoire.
France has, of course, a long and proud potato tradition. You might not be up for making full-bore twice-fried French fries (though do note that you can do part of the process ahead and freeze for quite a while before the second fry), but crispy potatoes can be had more easily. Potatoes Anna sound (and look) fancy, but are a pretty simple dish that makes the potatoes crunchy in a very pleasing manner. I first heard about potatoes Anna in Nora Ephron’s wonderful tell-all novel with recipes, Heartburn, wherein a section memorably called Potatoes and Love: Some Reflections, she says that potatoes Anna—and other labor-intensive crisp potatoes—are for the beginning of a love affair. That appears not to be an option for you, as I gather you have been married long enough to be working through ten pounds of potatoes, but as you are looking to avoid what she calls “the middle”—when you find the potatoes are going soft—potatoes Anna might be worth a try anyway.
A classic potato gratin is a rich treat that’s often served as a side dish, but can easily be a main dish with a sharp green salad alongside. So can this bacon and potato pie, which isn’t strictly French (more Irish-ish) but hell, it’s on puff pastry and that’s good enough for me. You can call it tarte aux pommes de terre and nobody will question you.
Don’t forget about breakfast. Big batches of hash browns or home fries (this link has dueling recipes; I favor the style that starts with cooked potatoes but you do you) should use those up in a hurry. And you can always fall back on all-American side dishes. Twice-baked potatoes were always a treat when my mom made them (melted cheese!). And if you happen to be so sick of the potatoes that you have some aggression to work out, smashed potatoes have a pleasing level of violence in addition to a surprisingly robust amount of Vitamin C. I’m happy to inform you that nobody in your house will have scurvy for the foreseeable future.