15 Ways Ina Garten Elevates Classic Potato Dishes

There would not be a "Barefoot Contessa" without host and food guru Ina Garten. She started her lifelong career in food as the owner of the Barefoot Contessa, a small specialty foods store in the Hamptons. Garten eventually published several cookbooks, including 1999's best-seller "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," "Barefoot Contessa at Home," "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics," "Make it Ahead," and "Cooking for Jeffrey" (her husband). In 2006, the food star introduced a line of cookware products, including baking mixes and sauces, with business partner Frank Newbold. Ina Garten has evolved into one of the most recognizable names in food media and never fails to provide practical advice to home cooks.

One of the foods Garten has been the most prolific about in her books, media collaborations, and television show is the humble spud. She suggests many ways to amp up the flavors and textures of classic potato dishes — all of which can be replicated by her dedicated home cook audience. Here are some of Ina Garten's best tips for upgrading potatoes.

Using a towel trick to drain boiled potatoes

Boiling potatoes is a deceptively easy task in the kitchen. Under-seasoning your water or overcooking your potatoes are just two small mistakes that can dramatically impact your spuds' final taste and texture. Ina Garten takes an extra step to prevent a poor texture when draining boiled potatoes.

During a segment of her cooking show where she made a potato salad, Garten boiled 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes for 15 minutes before placing them into a colander. Then, she put a clean kitchen towel over the potatoes and let them steam for about 10 minutes before continuing with her recipe. This method is ideal for cooking boiled potatoes because the steaming helps make the inside of the potato softer. It also reduces the need to cook the potatoes quickly and hot on the stove — which may produce overcooked potatoes on the outside with raw middles. Garten's trick will ensure that you have potatoes that will please everyone at the table (or the picnic).

Making garlic-forward mashed potatoes

Ina Garten never skimps on flavor. Her recipe for garlic mashed potatoes features a game-changing method that will forever improve how you make this flavor-forward side dish. Rather than just using mediocre garlic powder or a bit of minced garlic, Garten uses garlic cloves and garlic-infused oil to make her recipe. Rather than roasting her garlic, Garten sticks to the stovetop by adding equal parts oil and garlic cloves to a pan over medium heat. When the mixture starts to sizzle, Garten turns down the heat to a simmer until the cloves begin to show brown spots and are soft.

Then, Garten cools the mixture for about 30 minutes before transferring the cloves and the oil to the rest of the potatoes. This method gives a ton of garlic-forward flavor that pairs well with meats or other side dishes you're serving. Just make sure you make enough potatoes because everyone will surely want a spoonful (or two).

She adds extra special ingredients in her store-bought mashed potatoes

Despite her emphasis on flavor and award-winning textures, Ina Garten is a proponent of taking the easy way out when it comes to mashed potatoes. The Barefoot Contessa herself is a fan of using store-bought mashed potatoes as a way to save a couple of bucks and some time in the kitchen. But that's not to say that Garten doesn't make the most of her boxed mashed potatoes.

Garten uses several simple additions to elevate her store-bought mashed potatoes. Unlike the standard methods of using a microwave or an oven to reheat prepared mashed potatoes, Garten admits she prefers to use a double boiler. She also amps up the flavor of her mashed potatoes by stirring in sour cream, Parmesan cheese, butter, salt, and pepper. Of course, these are not the only toppings you can add to mashed potatoes; we love adding chopped chives and herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage to our own mashed potatoes. This cooking method is also much more friendly for cleanup since it uses only a bowl, pan, and trusty wooden spoon.

Putting goat cheese in mashed potatoes

Who doesn't love cheesy potatoes? Although the most common cheese paired with mashed potatoes is surely cheddar, Ina Garten has another top contender to mix with the classic side dish. The flavor-packed cheese she adds to her mashed potatoes is goat cheese.

In her "Make It Ahead" cookbook, Garten suggested adding goat cheese to add a new layer of complexity to her Yukon gold mashed potatoes. Her favorite cheese for this recipe is Montrachet; a soft cheese with a subtle flavor that easily mixes into the potatoes. Her garlic and herb goat cheese is always softened to room temperature to further ensure it combines with the other ingredients. In addition, Garten uses fresh garlic cloves, butter, sour cream, and a splash of half-and-half to make her goat cheese mashed potatoes even more creamy.

Garten recommends folks stir in the goat cheese while the potatoes are still hot before passing it through a food mill. To upgrade the cheesiness of your dish, Garten notes that you can add the mashed potatoes to a baking tray with a layer of Parmesan on top and bake until brown and crisp.

Ina takes extra steps to prep her baked potatoes

Baked potatoes are one dish that can easily be a side or encapsulate a whole meal. And there's nothing worse than a soggy baked potato topped with mediocre toppings.

For a flavorful, crusty skin on baked potatoes, Ina Garten starts with whole potatoes. Then, she rolls each in a coating of oil with a spice blend made with dried rosemary, thyme, lemon, and salt. The herbs release a ton of aromatic compounds as the baked potato is cooking — thus leaving behind a herby crust that pairs well with any type of potato topping. Speaking of potato toppings, Ina Garten makes a whipped feta with feta cheese, cream cheese, lemon juice, and salt to top her baked potatoes. This creamy, tangy topping pairs decadently well with the herby crust and crispy skin on the potato. After this tip, you won't return to making baked potatoes any other way.

Substituting parsnips for potatoes

It's hard not to love mashed potatoes. But there is always room to improve your mashed potatoes with other root vegetables. Ina Garten makes a parsnip mash as an alternative to mashed potatoes — and we can guarantee you it's a much more fun way to get your veggies in. Plus, the recipe couldn't be any simpler; you'll just need parsnips, salt, pepper, and butter. This root vegetable has a slightly more pronounced organic flavor than potatoes and does not gum up as quickly as potatoes do. This is because parsnips have a significantly lower starch content than potatoes, meaning they only get smoother the more you mash them.

Garten's recipe for parsnip mash doesn't require any of the fatty dairy products (like sour cream) that her other recipes call for. Instead, just use a little bit of the leftover boiling water to help make your dish deliciously smooth and creamy.

Roasting her potatoes with garlic

Roasted potatoes are the perfect side to pair with chicken or pork. Ina Garten, the queen of taking basic recipes up a notch, uses a simple trick to perfect roasted potatoes. Rather than just chopping up the potatoes, drizzling them with oil, and tossing them in the oven, Garten uses a series of seasonings to help bring more flavor to the potatoes. For example, she uses six cloves of minced garlic for 3 pounds of potatoes (either red or white) along with fresh parsley, salt, and pepper. An integral part of this recipe is to use "good olive oil" — meaning from a reputable brand that uses actual olives rather than a mixture of oil types.

Since garlic is such a crucial element in her roasted potato recipe, Garten recommends picking fresh garlic that is firm to the touch and has not sprouted. This will ensure that your potatoes will have the freshest taste possible.

Zesting a hint of lemon in puréed potatoes

Lemon is an ingredient typically reserved for chicken piccata and lemon meringue pie, but the Barefoot Contessa proves that it can be used for potato dishes, too. It's the refreshing ingredient she adds to puréed potatoes.

The key to Garten's recipe is to use a full tablespoon of freshly grated lemon zest for every 2.5 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes. After Garten boils the potatoes, she adds them to a food mill to purée them before mixing them with butter and hot milk. She adds a pinch of salt and the zest at the end of the preparation process — noting that letting the zest sit with the potatoes can cause them to become bitter with time. The Barefoot Contessa notes that this potato dish can be prepared beforehand, but the zest should only be whisked into the potatoes right before serving.

Integrating textures into potato soup

Nothing is cozier on a cold winter day than a bowl of warm soup in your favorite mug. Potato soup is one of our favorite savory soups because of how creamy it can be and how easy it is to customize it with novel ingredients. Ina Garten's trick for introducing texture to puréed potato soup is to garnish the soup with an array of crunchy, savory, and cheesy accompaniments. For her creamy potato fennel soup, Garten uses crispy croutons, creamy goat cheese, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil to help distract from the otherwise one-dimensional texture. The recipe also suggests other toppings like cooked pancetta, bacon, or cheese.

If you're making potato soup, you can also use herbs to provide a hint of freshness and bright flavor to an otherwise dull appetizer. Our favorites include freshly chopped chives, parsley, or a sprig of rosemary.

Combining sour cream and parmesan to smashed potatoes

Is there a difference between smashed and mashed potatoes? Unlike mashed potatoes, which have the skins removed for a creamy, smooth texture, smashed potatoes leave the skin on for a more rustic texture. Ina Garten's recipe for smashed potatoes is relatively simple and includes the help of several dairy ingredients — mainly sour cream and Parmesan cheese — to help make this side dish all the more perfect.

Ina Garten uses waxy red potatoes for this recipe; the skin provides a more unique consistency compared to a bland Yukon or yellow potato. Once the potatoes are boiled and drained, Garten combines half-and-half with butter in a saucepan on the stove. She then adds the mixture to the potatoes before finishing the mix with sour cream, freshly grated Parmesan, and seasonings. Garten recommends adding more hot cream and butter if the mixture is too thick.

Cooking crispy hash browns in a waffle iron

There wouldn't be an actual savory breakfast without warm hash browns. Ina Garten has an easy way to maximize the crispy edges on your plate of hash browns — and it only takes the addition of a single kitchen appliance. Her recipe for waffle iron hash browns will forever change how you think about this breakfast potato dish.

Garten's recipe calls for Russet potatoes, grated using a box grater or a food processor with a grating disc and chopped yellow onion. She notes that squeezing out the moisture of both notoriously wet ingredients is essential; this will help the hash browns stick together better on the griddle. Then, she adds the ingredients to a bowl with an egg, melted butter, flour, and seasoning. She then cooks the hash browns on the greased iron until brown before finishing them in the oven. Your brunch guests will surely be impressed with this simple upgrade to hash browns.

Enhancing potato salad with buttermilk and fresh herbs

Potato salad is a staple for entertaining, picnics, and lunches with friends. Who doesn't love the taste of starchy boiled potatoes with a creamy backdrop?

Ina Garten's rendition of potato salad features familiar (and unfamiliar) ingredients. She starts by using white potatoes, boiled and steamed with a kitchen towel. Then, she prepares her dressing with a few common ingredients like mayonnaise, dill, and seasonings. But then, she gets a little unconventional by adding buttermilk, Dijon mustard, and whole-grain mustard to the mix. The buttermilk imparts a lovely tang to the potato salad, while the mustards provide a depth of flavor incomparable to other ingredients. The Barefoot Contessa also recommends adding chopped red onion and celery to the salad for a bit of texture. Finally, she notes that leaving the salad in the fridge for a few hours is critical to allow all of the flavors to come together, although the salad itself can be served cold or at room temperature.

Mashing potatoes in a stand mixer

Ina Garten's flavors are top-notch and often suggest techniques and cooking methods that save a lot of time for home cooks. For example, potato mashers and ricers take a lot of time and rarely produce the perfect creamy mashed potato texture. Instead, Ina Garten recommends using a stand mixer for all of your mashed potato needs. You'll get the desired smoothness, with some chunkiness, that distinguishes a great side dish like mashed potatoes.

Garten starts by adding the mashed potatoes to her stand mixer, outfitted with a paddle attachment, on a slow speed. Then, she gradually adds her ingredients, like melted butter or cream, into the stand mixer to ensure everything is well-incorporated. Although she's a fan of simple ingredients, Ina Garten does allow some room for creativity in seasoning mashed potatoes. For example, adding sour cream, crème fraîche, herbs, or garlic oil can improve the flavor of your classic mashed potatoes.

Maximizing fennel flavor in a gratin

Gratin sounds like a fancy dish, but it is simple to make. A gratin is a dish (not exclusive to potatoes) made in a shallow baking pan and browned with a layer of cheese or breadcrumbs and butter. Ina Garten amps up the flavor of her gratin by using fennel and Gruyère cheese.

Garten begins by sautéing the thinly sliced fennel stalks in a pan with butter, olive oil, and yellow onion. Next, she adds this mixture to the peeled and mandoline-sliced potatoes (thin and equally-sized is key) with heavy cream, ample amounts of cheese, and salt and pepper. Then, she transfers the mixture to a greased baking dish, tops it with more cheese, and bakes the tray for over an hour. This side dish is perfect for serving with poultry or red meat; the fennel provides a bit of texture without removing the creaminess of the cheese and the potatoes.

Elevating potatoes with truffle

How do you feel about the recent emphasis on all things truffle? If you're Ina Garten, you probably love it. The ingredient she adds for fancy and flavorful mashed potatoes is truffle butter. The Barefoot Contessa is very deliberate when she adds her truffle butter — since she doesn't want the truffles to cook. Instead, she adds a bit of butter to the mashed potatoes before finishing the crock with Parmesan and three ounces of warmed white truffle butter. She notes that the white truffles have a more robust flavor than the black ones, which is why she prefers the former.

If you've ever experimented with truffle butter, you know how intense and potentially overpowering the ingredient can be. So besides purchasing Garten's highly recommended brands (Urbani or D'Artagnan), you can always err on the side of caution and use less than the three ounces Garten uses in her recipe.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table and Mashed.