End of summer potatoes

New potatoes are here! What is a new potato? Does it differ from an old potato? Actually, new potatoes are freshly harvested as opposed to being held in storage. Usually people think of new potatoes as being a small, round, red or white potato. New potatoes have a very thin skin that can often be rubbed off with your fingers. Mature or stored potatoes have a thicker skin. New potatoes can be small or large , from the size of a marble to as big as or bigger than two fists put together. New potatoes have a high moisture and sugar content and cook quickly. Potatoes were cultivated by the ancient Inca civilization in Perus Andes Mountains thousands of years ago. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family which also includes tomatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers. The only part of the potato plant that is edible is the tuber which grows underground and stores carbohydrate which feeds the green plant that grows above the soil. Potatoes were not accepted as an edible food in Europe until the 16th century, as many people believed that the potato (tuber) was poisonous. The potato plant itself is indigestible and can make you sick. Potatoes are labeled according to their end use; baking, boiling, or all purpose. Baking potatoes have a low-moisture, high starch content with a mealy flesh that makes them fluffier when baked or mashed. Russet potatoes are classified as a baking potato and are oval shaped, have a hard brown skin with a fine netting pattern, and can be large and heavy. Potatoes come in many shapes and colors: yellow and tan to blue and purple. Fingerlings are new potatoes of long potatoes and the name is derived from their size, which resembles the size of a finger; they can be Russets, long whites or purple potatoes. Potato skin is an excellent source of fiber so try to leave the skins on the potato. Cut, uncooked potatoes can turn color so prepare just before cooking. If you must prepare potatoes ahead of time, place cut potatoes in cold water for no more than two hours. You can easily make low-fat chips and fries. Scrub and very thinly slice a baking potato (a vegetable peeler makes the thinnest slices). Lightly coat a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray or cooking oil, place the slices in a single layer, spray or brush them lightly with oil, and sprinkle with paprika. Bake in a 400 oven for 30 minutes, turning the chips halfway through the cooking time. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until the chips are crisp. For oven fries, cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch-thick sticks and proceed as above, but bake the potatoes in a 450 oven for 35 to 40 minutes, turning them occasionally. Often people mistakenly think that potatoes are a fattening food, which is not true. Its the accessory foods people usually have with potatoes butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, gravy that are fattening. Nutritionally speaking, the less you add to a potato, the better. Or use it as a back-drop for healthful, low-fat toppings such as lemon juice, chopped fresh herbs, or minced sun-dried tomatoes. Enjoy all the fresh flavors of summer. And eat some new potatoes soon. Dianne Lamb is a nutrition and food specialist with the University of Vermont Extension.

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