Spud savvy: A bit of potato knowledge goes a long way

Julie Falsetti

One potato, two potatoes, right potato, wrong potato.

When I first started cooking, I didn’t pay much attention to what kind of potato I used in a recipe. I paid dearly for my nonchalance. Depending on the dish, the results were too mushy, too lumpy or too watery. I have since gained more respect for the noble tuber. I’ve found a little spud knowledge goes a long way.

Potatoes can be divided along a continuum ranging from starchy to waxy.

Starchy potatoes are high in starch and low in moisture. Idaho and Russet are the classic examples. This type of potato works best for mashing and frying.

Waxy potatoes have a low starch content and hold their shape well when cooked. Thin-skinned red or white potatoes fall into this category. This is the type of potato you want to use for potato salad or casseroles.

A third type is the all-purpose potato, with a starch content that is somewhere in the middle. These can be used in almost any type of recipe. Yukon Gold potatoes are the best known variety of this type.

Because of their relatively neutral flavor, potatoes lend themselves to many types of preparation. Scalloped potatoes are right up on the top 10 list of comfort foods. They are the perfect side dish to any cool-weather meal.

Golden topped, bubbling hot from the oven, this dish will pique the appetite of even the most jaded potato eater. Add some cubed leftover ham, and you have a filling main dish.

Parboiling the potatoes before adding them to the casserole will cut down the cooking time in the oven and ensure that the potatoes are evenly cooked. Some recipes call for sprinkling flour between the layers, but I find a white sauce produces a creamier and more-consistent result.

Scalloped Potatoes

3 pounds waxy potatoes, pared and thinly sliced

2 onions, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons butter plus extra for greasing the baking dish

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk

11/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or tarragon

Cook the potatoes and onions in lightly salted boiling water in a large saucepan for 5 minutes.

Drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart baking dish. To make the sauce, first melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan. Add the flour, and stir until smooth. Stir in the milk, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat, and stir in the parsley. Spoon half of the potato-onion mixture into the prepared baking dish and add half the sauce. Stir gently to mix well. Add the remaining potato-onion mixture and top with the remaining sauce. Bake for 45 minutes or until browned on top.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.