Although there are probably hundreds of ways to prepare potatoes, there are only a few varieties of potatoes available in the United States: the Idaho, or russet (Idahoes are a form of russet, but not all russets are Idahoes); the all-purpose; and the red boiling potato. All of these potatoes have white flesh. In some areas, consumers can get blue potatoes, which have purple flesh, or the recently developed Yukon Gold, which has yellow flesh.
For cooking, however, it's not the color but the starch content that determines which potato to use. High-starch potatoes, the russets or Idahoes, are best baked, mashed or deep-fried, says Lydie Marshall, author of "A Passion for Potatoes."
All-purpose potatoes are medium starch and can be used in any method. Low-starch potatoes have firmer texture and stand up well to boiling. They are sometimes called "waxy" because the skin is somewhat shiny, Ms. Marshall says.
These recipes call for several kinds of potatoes, though often the choice is simply a matter of taste. The first two are from Ms. Marshall's book (HarperPerennial, 1992, $13 paper).
Roquefort and potato tart
Serves eight as an appetizer, four as a light entree
1/2 pound of tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon mustard
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 11-inch unbaked tart shell (recipe follows)
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese
1/2 to 3/4 pound russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 -inch thick (1 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced 1/8 -inch thick ( 2/3 cup)
freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Quarter the tomatoes and scoop out the pulp (save for a sauce or stock). Dice tomato shellsinto 1/4 -inch cubes and put into strainer placed over a bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.
Mix the mustard and egg together and spread in the bottom of the unbaked tart shell. Sprinkle the Roquefort over it.
Overlap the potato and onion slices on top of the cheese. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper over potatoes and onions.
Combine tomatoes with the basil and olive oil and sprinkle over potatoes and onions.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Serve hot.
French pastry dough
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water, depending on the weather
Cut the butter into teaspoons and freeze for 30 minutes.
Put flour, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process for 10 seconds, then add 2 tablespoons water in humid weather or 3 tablespoons in dry weather. Process for another 10 seconds. (Mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal.)
Dump the mixture on a table or counter and bind a small amount at a time with the heel of your hand, using a sliding motion to incorporate the butter and flour smoothly.
Gather the dough into a ball and flatten it. Wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate for 15 minutes, just enough time to firm up the butter.
Roll out the dough to a 13-inch circle and put in 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom, trimming the excess. Prick the bottom. Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze until ready to bake.
Roasted potatoes Escoffier
2 pounds Red Nordland, Red Pontiac, Yukon Gold or White Rose potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Place the potatoes next to each other in a large, cast-iron skillet. Pour in enough hot water to come one-quarter of the way up the potatoes. Distribute butter or margarine evenly over potatoes and sprinkle with salt. With a large spoon, combine water, potatoes, butter and salt.
Bake for 1 hour, or until the water has evaporated and the potatoes are lightly roasted.
This next recipe is from "Cucina Simpatica," by Rhode Island chefs and restaurateurs Johanne Killeen and George Germon.
The husband and wife team is noted for hearty, down-to-earth dishes influenced by Italian trattoria, or family-style, cooking.
Warm potato salad with pancetta
7 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed
3 ounces pancetta, chopped ( 1/2 cup packed)
6 cups mixed lettuces, leaves separated, washed and spun dry (see note)
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 to 3 pinches kosher salt
Heat the oven to 475 and brush two baking sheets with 1 tablespoon olive oil each
Slice the potatoes into thin rounds, about 1/16 to 1/8 -inch thick, and lay them out in a single layer on the baking sheets. Brush the potato slices with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and top with the pancetta.
Roast the potatoes and pancetta for 15 to 18 minutes, until the potatoes are browned and cooked through.
About 3 minutes before you remove the potatoes from the oven, toss the lettuces in a bowl with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, and salt to taste. Keep in mind the pancetta is salty.