What comes to mind when you think of potatoes? If you’re Irish-American, like me, pictures of verdant hills, fisherman’s knit sweaters, and noisy corner pubs may fill your head. But potatoes are the staple of a majority of diets. And though they’ve been adopted by many cultures, their birthplace is believed to be southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia where they were first domesticated between 8000 and 5000 BC. After Spain conquered the Incan Empire the potato made its way to Europe sometime during the 16th century. It spread throughout that continent and worldwide port locales.
Back in South America where thousands of varieties of my favorite tuber exist it remained a reliable food source. But only a few varieties made the journey to the “Old World.” Potatoes there did not have the genetic diversity to resist disease. Eventually a fungus spread through European potato crops. In 1845 Ireland was hit especially hard by the blight, which was one of the triggers of the Great Irish Diaspora, and one reason why I am an American.
The potato is an important crop throughout Europe, Asia, and India. Each region where potatoes exist has put its own unique stamp on the staple leaving us rich with delicious ways to enjoy our spuds. One of my favorites is with Italian gnocchi. The versatile small potato dumplings can be used in pasta-like entrées or as substitutes for dumplings, and even as an interesting alternative to rice, potatoes or other starches.
If you’d like a potato dish or two with a twist, check out our Gnocchi recipes, which we’ve posted in honor of National Potato Day, August 19th. They’re easy and delicious, and add some variety to your weekly meals.
Photo Courtesy of Easy Weekly Meals