Except, nobody anywhere says ‘potahto’. The silly pronunciation was invented by George and Ira Gershwin for the 1937 song “Let's Call the Whole Thing Off”. Clearly, they could not find anything to rhyme with tomahto-tomato, which is an authentic example of a difference between the British and American pronunciation.
We don’t say potahto but we certainly eat a lot of them. And so we should, especially in the cold winter months. We sometimes forget that it is, albeit starchy, a vegetable and counts as 1-a-day unless in the shape of crisps.
Potatoes are a source of fibre, especially if we don’t peel them. They are rich in potassium, vitamins B and C and they contain resistant starch which goes down a treat with the bacteria in your gut and also keeps you full for longer. Which is why the old spud can actually be conducive to weight loss.
In fact, a man called Chris Voigt allegedly lost 20 pounds in 2010 on a two-month diet of just potatoes (while getting reasonably good blood results). The fact that he was the head of the Washington State Potato Commission might explain his determination.
But Internetal evidence aside, a friend of mine had a similarly good achievement in weight loss lunching on baked potatoes every day for a couple of months. The key issue is what you put on the spud and how you prepare it.
Baked, boiled, roasted or mashed, the latter two with not a lot of fat, potatoes are absolutely healthy, filling and diet-friendly. It’s when you start dipping them in the deep fryer or smother in butter or duck fat that the problems start. Still, as I always profess, it’s okay to have some of the good thing as long as it’s not too much.
How to bake a perfect jacket potato?
The most common varieties, Maris Piper or King Edward or even the no-name white baking potatoes are perfectly good for baking. The fancy varieties are not worth it and not so successful.
Wash or scrub the potato, jab it in several places with a small knife to let the steam escape while it’s baking, and place it straight on the rack of the oven preheated to 220C/425F/gas7. Bake for 1 - 1½ hour depending on the size.
If you prefer the skin to be a bit softer, wrap the potato in foil halfway through the cooking time. If you want the skin to be super-tasty, brush it with oil before baking.
What to put on the jacket potato?
If you bury it in grated Cheddar it will be lovely, but mind the calorie bomb. Instead, try chilli crab butter as a topping, or creamed corn and tomatoes. Whipped feta is also gorgeous with a baked spud as are crispy roasted chickpeas; the latter with the potato will make a great and wholesome main course.
Roasted potatoes are gorgeous and good for keeping you full – I do like a dinner of just smashed roasted potatoes with some greens and nothing else. Have you tried boulangères? They are a healthy version of dauphinoise with cream replaced with stock.
Gratins of potatoes with another plant ingredient make delicious dishes: potato and cabbage gratin or potato and fennel one. It goes with salmon in a bake or with leeks. And it makes a wonderful potato and mushroom soup.
Potato goes with chorizo, and it goes with cod in tray bakes. The only thing I have never tried is to use them in desserts, so this week perhaps you can make some date and walnut nougat meringues, to utilise the leftover egg whites you conscientiously froze at Christmas time.
Eat well and stay healthy!