- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Potatoes have a place on the table year-round for most people, in many guises — from being the symbol of down-to-earth food, as in “meat and potatoes,” to being a vegetarian staple.

At Thanksgiving or for other special days, potatoes merit being served with a bit of a flourish — for a taste boost, for fun or just to dress up the festive table. The two easy recipes that follow give the essential spud special presentation with a bonus: Neither recipe depends on overloading the dish with fat or calories.

Twice-baked potatoes Florentine can complement turkey and cranberries with extra flavor and texture. Spinach, leeks, roasted red bell peppers and fresh basil are mashed with Yukon gold potatoes and piled in their skins with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Potatoes Florentine

The preparation time is 20 minutes, and the cooking time is 35 minutes.

4 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2½ pounds)

3 tablespoons butter

1 small leek, thinly sliced (white and pale green part only)

2 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach, lightly packed

1/4 cup skim milk

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red bell peppers

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Pierce the potatoes and microwave for 20 minutes or until tender when gently squeezed. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the leek and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes more until the spinach is cooked and any liquid has been absorbed.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes in half and scoop out the insides, leaving a 1/4-inch rim of potatoes in the skins. Mash the potatoes with the milk until smooth, then stir in the leek, half the cheese, the salt and pepper. Stir in the roasted peppers and basil. Place the potato skins onto a baking sheet and fill with the potato mixture; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition information (per serving): about 190.86 cal., 6.43 g pro., 28.04 g carbo., 6.44 g total fat (3.94 g saturated), 16.71 mg chol., 227.69 mg sodium, 2.60 g fiber.

Caramelized shallot and chive smashed potatoes up the ante for standard mashed potatoes with the addition of shallots and fresh chives to russet potatoes, an alternative with far less fat and calories than traditional mashed potatoes. An option: Add a bit of smoked cheddar cheese for an instant taste buzz.

Caramelized shallot and chive smashed potatoes

The preparation time is 20 minutes, and the cooking time is 30 minutes.

2½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and halved

2 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup thinly sliced shallots

3/4 cup fat-free sour cream

1/4 cup 1/3-less-fat cream cheese

1/4 cup skim milk

1 bunch fresh chives, sliced (about 2½ tablespoons)

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large pot with water to cover.

Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

While potatoes cook, melt butter in a small skillet. Add the shallots and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until shallots are very soft and golden brown. Drain potatoes and let cool slightly, then place in a medium bowl and mash until smooth. Stir in the sour cream, cream cheese and milk; mash until smooth. Add the cooked shallots, chives, salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.

Variation: Stir 1 cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese into hot mashed potatoes.

Nutrition information (per serving, without smoked cheese): 228.82 cal., 6.17 g pro., 43.15 g carbo., 3.68 g total fat (2.22 g saturated), 12.28 mg chol., 207.66 mg sodium, 3.54 g fiber.

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