It's a blustery day here in Northland - what better time to start to draft ideas for a recipe for the Great Potato Challenge?

The challenge, which you can enter at potatoes.co.nz, has two categories: an entree or main recipe featuring potato as the key ingredient, or your favourite baked potato dish. Entries close on September 24, and 10 winners will be chosen over both categories.

The top four will compete in Auckland at The Grand Cook-off on October 7.

My first step is to ponder just what potatoes are all about. They are the world's fourth-largest crop after rice, wheat and maize, and the Chinese account for a quarter of the global output.

Last year, more emphasis was placed on the beneficial role of potatoes in world food production, owing to its status as an economic and plentiful crop, stable pricing and ability to be grown in a variety of climates and localities.

In fact, the United Nations declared 2008 the official year of the potato - a way of increasing awareness of its importance as a food in developing nations.

The protein content of a potato is found in a thin layer just under its skin, evident when the skin of a boiled potato is carefully peeled; it appears as a yellowish film.

Potatoes need to be cooked to break down the starch, 20 per cent of which is indigestible, but other than that this adaptable tuber is easy to use, filling and will add a wonderful dimension to your food.

One rule of thumb is to add salt to the cooking water for mashing potatoes but not if you wish the potato to keep its shape. And if you want delicious crunchy potatoes, the best technique is to steam then first before frying in hot, clean vegetable oil. Finish with a sprinkling of seasoned salt containing ground roasted fennel seeds and rosemary.

The cutest New Zealand potato is the jersey benne. These little waxy potatoes love to be roasted in duck fat in a pre-heated tray, tossed with sea salt and milled pepper, then finished off in a hot oven until crisp.

To wow guests at your next dinner party, prepare potato wafers and build them into a stack with other tasty ingredients. Start by slicing potatoes 2mm thick - a Japanese mandolin is a good tool for this.

Cut the slices with a cookie-cutter into even potato discs, coat these lightly in clarified butter and place on to a baking tray lined with non-stick paper. Cover with another sheet of paper and place another baking tray on top to weigh it down. Bake in a preheated 150C oven for 25 minutes or until golden.

Smaller discs make a great canape base with cold smoked salmon, a little piece of buffalo mozzarella, tomato pesto and a leaf of watercress.

But now, back to my competition dish. With more than 62 certified potato varieties in New Zealand, I still have some narrowing down to do.

Potato recipes:
* Garlic and potato soup with smoked fish
* Potato cheese latkes and tahini sauce