Potatoes are low maintenance too. Mature potatoes will keep one to two months when stored in a dark place (not the refrigerator). To prep, scrub them well, cut out any green spots, eyes or sprouts, and peel if you’re so inclined. Figure on ¼ pound or ½ medium potato per serving.
There are basically three types of potatoes: waxy, starchy and all-purpose. Each is best suited for a particular type of preparation. Here are my favorite ways to cook each type of potato:
- Fingerlings: I like to simmer these tiny potatoes in just enough stock to cover until they are tender. Then raise the heat, add some butter and stir until the liquid boils away. They are great garnished with fresh herbs.
- New potatoes: These waxy potatoes are best boiled and tossed with butter before serving. I like to boil them in water with mint leaves for an interesting, subtle taste.
- Red potatoes: Also a waxy potato, these are great for cutting into wedges and roasting at 425 degrees. They also go well on the grill.
- Russets: These are starchy potatoes and are best suited to baking. Poke holes in the skin first with a fork, but do not wrap in foil, as that will steam the potato instead of baking it. In a 350-degree oven, a russet can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1½ hours to bake.
- Yukon Golds: These are the go-to potatoes, perfect for any potato recipe. Try slicing them thinly and sauteing them in a mixture of olive oil and butter.
Don’t forget you can also mash or oven-fry your potatoes. Oh, how could you forget?
For more on potatoes, including “breaking potato news” as well as recipes, check out Potato Goodness Unearthed.
Glazing vegetables is an extremely useful technique for punching up an otherwise boring vegetable side dish. I used to avoid recipes that used this technique, because I associated glazed vegetables — specifically, carrots — with a sugary, syrupy sweet dish. If I wanted to eat dessert, I’d have ice cream.
But I was wrong. The traditional method for glazing requires very little or no sugar. The technique relies on reducing a flavorful cooking liquid, such as chicken stock, to a glaze and thickening it with butter. While this technique works very nicely on carrots, many other vegetables can also benefit from it, such as brussels sprouts, pearl onions, sweet potatoes, turnips and winter squash. The other night, I made some delicious green beans also using this technique. So I encourage experimentation.
Here is how you do it:
- Prepare the vegetable by slicing or cutting into bite-sized pieces, if necessary.
- In a large skillet, add the vegetable, a pat of butter (about 1 tbsp.), salt and just enough good (preferably homemade) chicken stock to halfway cover.
- Bring the liquid to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer the vegetables until tender, adding a little more liquid if necessary.
- When the vegetables are done, raise the heat to medium-high and add 1-2 tbsp. butter. If desired, stir in 1-2 tbsp. sugar.
- Stir until the liquid reduces to a glaze coating the vegetables; there should be very little liquid left, and the glaze should be thickened and browned.
- Remove from the heat and stir in a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice to finish.
There are probably two main ways we all learned how to cook vegetables with liquid: boiling and steaming. But both of these techniques have disadvantages. Boiling vegetables in a lot of water often yields overcooked, mushy results that many of us remember (and hate) from our childhoods. And steaming all too often lets the flavor and moisture escape into the air rather than keeping it in the vegetables.
Lately, I have been simmering vegetables in an attempt to retain moisture and flavor without cooking the vegetables to death, and I’ve loved the results. Simmering is a hybrid of boiling and steaming that takes advantage of the best aspects of both.
Simmering involves cooking vegetables in a smaller amount of liquid than boiling them, and at a lower temperature, enough to keep a gentle simmer going. The pot is covered, trapping the steam and cooking the vegetables in less time so that their vibrant colors are retained.
Liquids other than water can be used to add more flavor. My favorites have been chicken stock, apple cider and orange juice. Flavorings can also be added to the liquid, such as soy sauce, herbs or garlic. Once the vegetables are cooked, if you like, raise the heat, uncover the pan and reduce the cooking liquid to a sauce to retain every bit of flavor.
Here are the basic steps for simmering vegetables:
- Cut the vegetables into smallish pieces, if necessary, such as cubes.
- Add the vegetables to the pot with enough liquid just to cover them halfway.
- Add a pat of butter or a small amount of olive oil, salt and other seasonings as desired.
- Bring the liquid to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are just tender (see below for suggested cooking times).
- If desired, uncover the pot, raise the heat and let the liquid reduce for a sauce.
- Serve as is or with the cooking liquid, or toss with a vinaigrette, flavored butter or a little lemon juice and fresh herbs.
Not all vegetables lend themselves to this cooking method, but many do. Here are some of my favorites:
- Simmer less than 5 minutes: asparagus, bok choy, corn (off the cob), green beans
- Simmer 5-10 minutes: artichoke hearts, broccoli florets, brussels sprouts, carrots (baby or cut into rounds)
- Simmer 10-15 minutes: cabbage, summer squash, baby zucchini
- Simmer 15-30 minutes: new potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash
This is a very simple recipe that uses the technique of simmering. Simmering is different from boiling in that a lot less liquid is used. By the time the squash is cooked through, most of the cooking liquid will have boiled away, and the flavors in the liquid will have infused the squash. So the trick is to use enough liquid to cook the squash but not so much that you have a lot of liquid left over at the end. This is mostly a judgment call depending on how much squash you are cooking, but as a general rule, it is better to start with too little and add more as you go along.
Simmered Squash with Asian Flavors
Time to make: ~30 minutes
What you need:
- 2 cups winter squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
- 2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. sake
- 2 tsp. garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. ginger, minced
- scallion greens, minced, for garnish
- Add the squash to a pot with enough water to cover the squash halfway
- Add the soy sauce, sake, garlic and ginger to the pot
- Bring to a boil
- Cover, reduce the heat and let simmer until the squash is tender and mashes easily, 20-25 minutes
- Garnish with minced scallion greens
I used butternut squash, but any winter squash will do. Japanese squashes would be well-suited to this dish.
Start with ¼ cup water and check the squash frequently as it cooks. If it’s looking dry, add a little more water.