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Mashed potatoes go uptown

February 24, 1997

Mashed potatoes go uptown

By KATE COLEMAN

Staff Writer

Long considered one of America's favorite comfort foods, mashed potatoes have gone uptown.

Restaurants and Institutions magazine, an American trade publication for chefs and restaurants, named mashed potatoes "Dish of the Year," the number one food trend for 1996. Now mashed potatoes are getting all dressed up with garlic, gourmet herbs and spices and ethnic accents at upscale restaurants.

Mashed potatoes always have been wonderful in their simplicity. Almost as American as apple pie, a steaming bowl of mashed potatoes - dripping butter or holding a pool of rich gravy - can conjure up images of home and hearth in less cholesterol-conscious days gone by.

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Plain and simple, the potato packs a lot of nutrition for the few pennies each serving costs. It is virtually fat free. A medium-size potato only has 110 to 115 calories. It is an important source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, B vitamins, trace minerals - including copper and magnesium - and small amounts of iron and vegetable protein. "An average serving provides about 10 percent of a desirable daily intake of fiber," according to The National Potato Promotion Board.

There are two basic potato categories: waxy or mealy. The National Potato Promotion Board recommends mealy potatoes for baking and mashing. A consumer education pamphlet from University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service prefers waxy potatoes for cooking methods other than baking, and calls the potato "the world's most important vegetable." One pound of potatoes equals about two cups of mashed.

Restaurants and Institutions magazine says that for most operations, making mashed potatoes from scratch is not "time- or labor-efficient."

Barb Wallech has been making the lunchtime mashed potatoes - from scratch - at Nick's Airport Inn in Hagerstown every day for about 10 years. Daytime cook there for 19 1/2 years, Wallech makes the basic, down-home, just like Mom's version of mashed potatoes. The restaurant's evening menu sometimes includes mashed potatoes made with garlic or rosemary, Wallech says.

Wallech peels 10 to 15 pounds of potatoes every day. She uses whatever cooking potatoes the restaurant buys, preferring those with a waxy consistency. She puts them in cold, salted water, boils at a "low boil" for 45 to 50 minutes, drains in a colander and puts them in a mixing bowl. Next she uses an old-fashioned potato masher. "You have to hand-mash them," Wallech advises. She adds about 1/2 pound of butter and salt and white pepper to taste. She blends these beginning on low speed in an electric mixer and adds whole milk - "always warm." She starts with a cup of milk, but potatoes are so different, sometimes as much as two cups are needed, Wallech says.

Wallech likes her mashed potatoes smooth and of medium consistency - not too thick, but not so thin that they'd fall off a spoon.

Dried Tomato-Basil Mashed Potatoes

- 1 1/3 pounds (4 medium) potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

- 2/3 cup lowfat (1 percent) milk

- 1/4 cup dried tomato bits

- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 4 teaspoons dried basil

- Salt and pepper, to taste

In medium saucepan, cook potatoes in 2 inches of boiling water, covered, about 12 minutes until tender; drain thoroughly.

Meanwhile, in small saucepan, heat milk and tomatoes. Do not boil. Set aside.

Mash potatoes with electric mixer, or potato masher. Mix in remaining ingredients. Do not overbeat. Stir gently over low heat just until heated through, adding a small amount of additional milk, if needed. Serves 4.

Nutritional information per serving: 164 calories; 5 grams protein; 1 gram fat; 36 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 2 milligrams cholesterol; 34 milligrams sodium; 3 percent calories from fat.

- Recipe courtesy of National Potato Promotion Board

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