Sunday, March 13, 2011

Potatoes, Part II

The Dutch word for potato is aardappel, which means literally, "earth apple." It corresponds to the French pomme de terre. The English word potato derives from Quechua and Taino words for respectively, white and sweet potatoes.

Vincent Van Gogh - De Aardappeleters 1885
Potatoes have long been a staple of the Dutch diet. Every art student can identify the famous painting of a Dutch peasant family sharing their evening meal of potatoes. Even today, the Netherlands is the leading world producer of potatoes, for local consumption and export, due to its longstanding agricultural tradition, good soils, and temperate climate.

According to the Netherlands Potato Consultative Foundation, about a quarter of all arable land in the Netherlands is used for growing potatoes; and some 20 percent of this (35,000 to 40,000 hectares) is used for the production of seed potatoes. The majority of the seed crop is exported to over 80 countries around the world. This amounts to an annual export of some 700,000 metric tons of seed potatoes.

The Foundation conducts ongoing research to develop new varieties of potatoes by crossing two strains that exhibit desirable characteristics. The qualities sought by growers include resistance to disease in order to reduce the need for pesticides, the amount of water required to irrigate the crop, and the length of time the harvested crop can be stored.

Every year, the researchers produce over 1.5 million seedlings, but only three or four possible new varieties will be grown for mass production. Once a viable new variety is developed, it has to be quickly multiplied. Large-scale propagation will turn the myriad small plants into hundreds of thousands of salable products, which amount to about 70 percent of the registered world trade in certified seed potatoes.

Based on all of the above, you might suppose that the Dutch have also figured out a variety of ways to prepare potatoes. And indeed, Grandma Vandenbergh's Dutch cookbook has a whole chapter on potatoes, which includes about two dozen recipes. In the introductory paragraphs of this chapter, Martine Wittop Koning compares the nutritional value and cost  --  as a typically frugal Dutch woman!  --  of potatoes and rice. According to her analysis, the proportions of of starch and protein of the cooked foods are roughly comparable, although rice contains a trace amount of fat, whereas the potato has no fat.

Wittop Koning thus suggests adding a small amount of protein in the form of beans or bacon to a meal based on potatoes, in order to make it a more balanced meal and to ensure that care be taken to consume sufficient protein. The recipes in the chapter include boiled potatoes, steamed potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, baked potatoes, and another whole section on how to reinvent leftover potatoes. I chose one of the latter recipes, potato croquettes with ham:

Aardappelcroquetjes met Ham

- 2 1/2 cups cooked potatoes
- 1/2 cup ham, chopped
- 1 egg (optional)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon butter
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
- bread crumbs
- cooking oil  (I used non-stick cooking spray)

Make a stiff puree with the potatoes, milk, butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg and chopped parsley.

Mix in the chopped ham with a fork.

Form patties similar to hamburger patties.
Dip the patties in the bread crumbs and fry in hot fat.

Drain on paper towels as necessary, and serve hot.

I found that adding a bit of chopped onion also enhanced the flavor. If you use cooking spray instead of frying in a lot of oil, your croquettes will be lower in fat, and you won't need to drain on paper towels.

Aardappelcroquetjes met ham

The dish is a tasty and economical way to use up leftover potatoes.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal!

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