Sunday, May 08, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Idaho Part I - The Idaho Potato

We head back to Big Sky Country to explore the state best known for the potato - and oh is it ever known for that! But as has been with case with all the other states and DC, I learned there was more to food in Idaho than I realized.

Official Name: State of Idaho
State Nicknames:
The Gem State
Admission to the US: July 3, 1890 (#43)
Capital: Boise (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Nampa (2nd largest), Pocatello (3rd largest), Coeur D'Alene (6th largest)
Region: West, Northwest; Mountain (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Salmon, Pinyon Nut
Bordered by:
Washington & Oregon (west), British Columbia (Canada) (north), Montana & Wyoming (east), Utah & Nevada (south)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: huckleberry (fruit), potato (vegetable), cutthroat trout (fish)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes; also huckleberries, chokecherries and blueberries, moose, salmon & trout; pioneer foods, Basque chorizo

Idaho cuisine is frontier cuisine - pioneer cuisine - and much of what is characteristically Idahoan is hunted, gathered and grown, and many of those foods are found throughout the Northwest. Idaho is a heavily agricultural state, and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture breaks down how much it produces of its most famous foodstuffs. I love this kind of stuff:

If Idahoans had to consume all products produced within the state in 2009, every resident [all 1,545,801 of them according to the US Census Bureau] would need to eat or drink EVERY DAY
  • 219 slices of bread
  • 44 potatoes
  • 2 lbs of cheese or 40 glasses of milk
  • 1 8 oz. steak or 2 quarter-pound burgers
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cups of beans
[Idaho State Department of Agriculture 2010]
That's a lot of potatoes. And yes, Idaho has a great variety of agricultural output - as Idaho chefs very eagerly point out. Taite Pearson of Sego Restaurant in Ketchum, Idaho, tells Jennifer Hernandez for the Boise Weekly how he defines Idaho cuisine: "Simple, rustic cuisine"
"The food is connected to the land," he says. "It's made from things near here and is truly food of the land." The Ketchum chef believes Idaho cuisine is driven by what is available seasonally. "I'm trying to invent what Idaho food could be," he says. "I'm hoping to help create Idaho cuisine." [Hernandez 2010]
That said, there's no denying that the potato is by far Idaho's most famous export. And the Idaho Potato Commission is fiercely protective of that "Idaho potato" label. You can't call just any old russet potato (the most famous variety in the US) an "Idaho" potato (They've gone to court over this. For real). And it isn't just Russets either:
While the russet is the most well-known potato grown in Idaho, more than 25 other potato varieties are grown in Idaho including: Yukon Golds, Reds and Fingerlings. [Idaho Potato Commission 2011]
The same Idaho Potato website has a veritable bounty of recipes for Idaho potatoes, so this next recipe was much more difficult in the planning than I at first thought it would be. What to make? I finally settled on my most favorite potato dish of all, the might mashed potato, but found a fascinating take on it that I had to try out.

The recipe: Ricotta Garlic Mashed Potatoes

For mashed potatoes, one normally should mash and not whip them, with a combination of any of the following: milk, butter or cream. Some recipes suggest cheese as well. I had never considered ricotta in mashed potatoes before, but I had some lying around, and a few recipes that I found made it sound particularly intriguing. The following recipe is a mish-mash of two I found online, one Ricotta Mashed Potato recipe from the Country Living website, the other for Ricotta Garlic Mashed Potatoes from the Meatloaf for Moose blog. To my knowledge, neither recipe was written in Idaho.

Here's what you will need:

* 3 lbs potatoes (I used a variety of potatoes - russet, Yukon gold and red. If anyone from Idaho is reading this please don't be upset, because I was a bit frustrated in my search for Idaho potatoes. I could not find any. As great as the local food movement is, one peculiar downside to it is that when you actually need and want to find produce that was specifically grown in another state, you can't find it so easily. Pretty much all of the local potatoes in the supermarkets in my neck of the woods these days is from Maryland, North Carolina and Texas - but, alas, not Idaho. So I had to make do.
* 1 cup ricotta (left over from the previous mashup recipe for dessert lumpia - I had paid about $4 for it at the time)
* 1 head garlic, roasted (75¢ at the local farmers' market)
* salt and pepper (got it)
* 1 - 2 tablespoons heavy cream (about $1.75 for a half-pint)
* 4 tablespoons butter (got it)

Before you start prepping the potatoes, prepare a head of garlic for roasting, by cutting off the top and putting the rest of the head upside-down in a small dish of oil. Cover up with aluminum foil (Who needs one of those fancy $20 "garlic roasters" from Bed Bath and Beyond anyway?). Roast about half an hour at 350°F. When done, don't turn off the oven but instead turn it up to the broiler setting.

First, cube into about 1" cubes (but don't peel) 3 pounds of whatever potatoes you have, cutting off any eyes that have sprouted.

Boil about 20 minutes, drain and quickly rinse under cold water.

Next, add everything else - the ricotta, roasted garlic (squeeze out while holding it in something insulated - I had to use my kitchen towel), salt, pepper, butter and cream. I just eyeballed the cream.

Mash with a potato masher and place in a large Corningware (or other broiler-proof) dish, and then transfer the dish to your broiler for five to ten minutes.

This recipe turned out to be one of the more decadent things I have produced in my kitchen. These potatoes were rich and creamy but not gloppy like so many forgettably dull (or unforgettably bad) mashed potatoes I have had in the past. The consistency was part creamy /and part chunky, which is how I like my mashed potatoes, and they had a beautiful, slightly browned top thanks to their trip under the broiler. Whenever I have some extra ricotta left over, this will be a recipe I make again.

The second and final recipe I investigate from the Gem State uses an ingredient that is as impossible to find in Maryland as the potato is easy to find: I go in search of the ever-elusive huckleberry.


Country Living Magazine. "Ricotta Mashed Potatoes". Author unknown. Copyright 2011 Hearst Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Hernandez, Jennifer. "Beyond The Potato: Idaho chefs define Idaho cuisine". Boise Weekly, published March 23, 2010.

Idaho Potato Commission. Frequently Asked Questions. Copyright 2011 Idaho Potato Commission.

Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Idaho Agriculture Facts. Copyright 2011 Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

Meatloaf for Moose. "Garlic Ricotta Mashed Potatoes". Meatloaf for Moose. Posted Thursday, April 5, 2007.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Idaho" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Idaho".