Delicious potato recipes your family will love

Mary Ann Esposito shares her recipes for Layered Potato and Sweet Potato Casserole, Mom's Moist Meat Loaf and Spinach and Potato Pie

Pity the poor potato, forever relegated to a negative image of a carb with consequences. Potatoes are beloved by Americans, and, on average, the norm for consumption is a spud a day. Maligned as a vegetable to be avoided because it will make you gain weight, the potato is more than 70% water. When consumed plain and not deep-fried, the potato is an important part of our dietary needs. Baked potatoes slathered with butter, sour cream and bacon bits are the true culprits of why potatoes have been so unfairly cast aside by diet gurus.

History tells us that the unassuming, humble potato has been a survivor crop for many world cultures. The ancient people of Peru and Chile revered the potato as a food from the gods. In these cultures, potatoes were worshipped, buried with their dead and hidden in concealed bins for use in hard times.

The first potato type to arrive in the New World was the sweet potato. White potatoes, according to food historian Waverly Root, arrived in South America in the seventeenth century.

Potatoes are a major US crop and are most associated with Idaho. Missionaries introduced Idaho potatoes in the nineteenth century. There are many varieties from the common white potato to purple, blue, red and golden yellow. Most commonly found are allpurpose, Russet or baking potatoes, red skin and Yukon Gold.

Potatoes-which are in the same botanical family as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers-are tubers that grow underground from pieces of seed potatoes called "eyes." Plants are covered with soil to prevent any sun exposure since this causes them to turn green. They are harvested from summer to fall, and kept in dark, airy places.

Nutritionally, a medium potato has one hundred calories and doesn't have any cholesterol, saturated fat or sodium. Potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus and vitamin C, especially if eaten with the skin.

Sweet potatoes-loaded with potassium, and rich in vitamin A and betacarotene-are also root vegetables but from a different family than a potato. They are the root of a vine in the morning glory family and are native to Peru. Columbus brought the sweet potato to the New World from the island of Saint Thomas. The flesh of a sweet potato varies in color from bright orange to pale yellow. (Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams, which are not related. Yams are part of the lily family, and are native to Africa and Asia. Yams are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes).

There are so many ways to prepare healthy and delicious potato and sweet potato dishes without feeling guilty. The vegetables are not only versatile but also affordable and honest foods; let's just say that all potatoes are hot! And as praise for the common potato, a Pennsylvania prayer proclaims: "Potatoes served at breakfast, At dinner served again; Potatoes served at supper, Forever and Amen!"

Layered Potato and Sweet Potato Casserole

Serves 6

The combination of all-purpose potatoes and sweet potatoes makes this a very tasty and interesting side dish.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 pound (about 4) all-purpose potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

Salt, to taste

Grinding black pepper

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron or other heavy-duty ovenproof pan. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Make an overlapping layer of all-purpose potatoes in the base of the pan, covering the bottom completely. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Scatter some of the cheese over the potatoes.

2. Make a layer of sweet potato slices over the all-purpose potatoes, going in the opposite direction. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and sprinkle with cheese.

3. Continue making layers until all potatoes are used up. Melt remaining butter, combine with remaining olive oil and pour over the top.

4. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake 25 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender and browned at the edges.

Mom's Moist Meat Loaf

Serves 8

This free-form meat loaf is down-home comfort food.

11/2 cups fresh bread crumbs

1/3 cup white wine

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 large carrot, grated

1 red sweet onion, minced

1 cup diced button mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons minced parsley

4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into bits

2 eggs, lightly beaten

11/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

Coarse black pepper, a grinding plus more to taste

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

2 baking potatoes, peeled and grated

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place the bread crumbs in a large bowl and pour the wine over them. Stir with a spoon to moisten. Set bowl aside.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a sauté pan. Add carrot and onion, and cook just until onion softens-about 4 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Set aside to cool.

3. To the bowl with the bread crumbs, add the parsley, cheese, salt and pepper, and mix with a fork. Stir in the eggs. Add the beef and pork and with wet hands combine everything quickly.

4. Transfer the meat loaf mixture to a lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, and shape it into a flat 10-inch-by-5-inch loaf.

5. Toss the potatoes with the remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pat the potatoes evenly on top of the meat loaf.

6. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 155ºF-160ºF on an instant-read thermometer. This usually takes about an hour, depending on how thick you made the loaf. The potatoes should look golden brown and crispy.

7. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing crosswise.

Spinach and Potato Pie

Serves 4 – 6

Even children love the combination of spinach and potatoes in this casserole.

1 pound spinach, stemmed and washed

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large, all-purpose potatoes, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste

4 tablespoons butter, melted

B lack pepper, to taste

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or Swiss cheese, cut into small bits

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Steam the spinach until it has wilted; this will take just 1 minute or 2 minutes at the most. Drain and squeeze the spinach dry. Chop and transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the nutmeg.

2. Place the potatoes in a 1-quart saucepan, cover them with water, add 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender. Drain in a colander.

3. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and mash them with a potato masher; do not use a food processor or blender, as this will make the potatoes break down and become very pasty and glue-like. Add the butter, and salt and pepper to taste, and transfer the mixture to the bowl with the spinach. Stir in the yogurt and cheese.

4. Spread the mixture in an oiled pie plate and bake for 35 minutes until crusty and bubbly.

Serve hot.