The recipes below will feed about four, but adjust up or down as necessary. The first recipe in each category is the main recipe, then the two that follow are variations. Salt and pepper are assumed.
Mashed dishes are best made with russet varieties, and new potatoes are better for cooking in fat. (Use the latter type of potato for the labor-intensive Tater Tots, which are little short of a revelation.) You can peel the potatoes in these recipes or not; thin-skinned potatoes, especially, are just fine with a good scrubbing (use a brush).
1. Pommes Anna
Heat the oven to 400°F. Peel and thinly slice 2 pounds all-purpose potatoes (consider using a food processor). Toss with 3 tablespoons melted butter or oil and neatly layer in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet. Bake for 30 minutes; slide the cake out onto a plate, cover with another plate, invert it, and slide it back into the skillet, with a little more butter or oil if necessary. Continue cooking until potatoes are done and top is browned, 20 to 25 minutes; cut into wedges.
2. Anchovy and Pesto
Heat the oven to 375°F. Slice the potatoes up to 1 ⁄ 4 inch thick. Skip the butter. In a food processor, combine 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 1 garlic clove, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 4 anchovy fillets, 1 ⁄ 4 cup olive oil, and 1 ⁄ 2 cup grated Parmesan; pulse until blended, adding another 2 to 4 tablespoons oil until smooth. Toss with the potatoes; layer in an 8 by 10-inch baking dish and bake until the top is browned and the potatoes are done, about 55 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400°F. Slice the potatoes up to 1 ⁄ 4 inch thick; layer in an ovenproof skillet. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter; add enough half-and-half to come three-fourths to the top (2 to 3 cups). Place the skillet on the stove and bring to a boil; simmer for 10 minutes. Put in the oven and bake until the top browns, 10 minutes; reduce the heat to 300°F and cook until tender and browned, 10 minutes. Garnish: grated cheese (sprinkled on in the last 2 minutes of cooking) and nutmeg.
Cut 2 pounds potatoes into chunks. Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a deep skillet over medium-high heat; add the potatoes, 1 chopped onion, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic, and a sprig of thyme or rosemary; cook, stirring, until the potatoes begin to turn golden, 10 minutes. Add enough chicken or vegetable stock to barely cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender and the liquid mostly evaporates, 30 minutes. Garnish: chopped fresh thyme or rosemary.
5. Curried In Coconut Milk
Substitute neutral oil for the butter; omit the thyme. Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger and 2 teaspoons curry powder along with the onion to the potatoes. Substitute 1 1 ⁄ 2 cups coconut milk thinned with 1 ⁄ 2 cup water for the stock. Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro or Thai chile or both.
6. With Wine
Sauté 1 ⁄ 4 pound diced pancetta in a little olive oil until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon. Add 1 tablespoon chopped garlic and the onion; cook for a moment, then add the potatoes. Use 1 cup dry white wine and 1 cup stock for the liquid and cook until done. Garnish: pancetta crisps and chopped fresh parsley.
Boil 2 pounds of starchy or all-purpose potatoes until soft, 15 to 30 minutes, and drain. Wipe the pot and return to very low heat. Mash potatoes with 1 ⁄ 2 cup (1 stick) butter; then stir in 1 ⁄ 2 cup heavy cream. Garnish: chopped fresh parsley or chives.
8. Lean But Good
While the potatoes boil, heat 1 ⁄ 4 cup olive oil in a skillet with 1 tablespoon minced garlic and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. When the garlic is colored (not brown), add the drained potatoes to the olive oil and mash, adding a bit more oil if you like; skip the cream. Garnish: chopped chives.
9. With Greens
Following the recipe for Lean But Good, mash in 1 pound chopped cooked dandelion greens, spinach, or other bitter greens. Garnish: buttered bread crumbs.
Grate 2 pounds all-purpose potatoes; squeeze out excess liquid. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium heat and add the potatoes; shape into a disk. Cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. Slide the cake onto a plate, cover with another plate, and invert. Add more butter to the pan and slide the cake back in. Cook until browned all over, turning again, if necessary. Garnish: chopped fresh parsley.
11. Tater Tots
Heat the oven to 400°F. Parboil the potatoes until tender before grating. Mix with 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add neutral oil to a depth of 1 ⁄ 2 inch in a skillet. Form small cylinders the shape and size of gnocchi and fry until golden, 15 seconds per side. Drain on paper towels, let cool, then bake until crisp, about 30 minutes, turning once. (Makes 40 tots)
To the grated potatoes, add 1 grated medium onion, 2 lightly beaten eggs, and 2 tablespoons bread crumbs (or matzo meal). Substitute neutral oil for the butter (be liberal). Spoon the potato mixture into the oil to form small pancakes; fry until brown and crisp on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Serve with sour cream and applesauce. (Makes about 12 latkes)