Today is National Potato day. Well, you may not necessarily be euphoric or even particularly interested but Iâ€™m certainly going to celebrate our most famous Irish vegetable. I love potatoes but not just any potatoes. The red skinned Rooster is supposedly Irelandâ€™s favourite potato but funnily enough not mine. Give me Home Guard or British Queens any day. Later in the season I also seek out Sharps Express and Scary Champions. For those who like a waxy potato, fingerlings like Ratte and Pink Fir Apple make delicious potato salads. For flavour and texture, main crop Golden Wonder and Kerrs Pinks are hard to beat. I know they are trickier that the red skinned variety to cook but I still love the floury Irish potatoes that burst out of their jackets just before they are fully cooked.
The Ballycotton area has long been famous for its potatoes but there are just three commercial growers left now â€“ John Kennifick from Maytown, Michael Ivers from Ballyandreen and Willie Scannell from Ballytrasna. Willie sells his Home Guard, British Queens, Kerrs Pinks and the main crop Golden Wonders at Midleton Farmer Market. Get there early, youâ€™ll be lucky if they are not sold out by 11:30am. Itâ€™s hard to beat a really good potato for nourishment and sheer value for money. They are packed with nutrients, vitamin C (twice as much as an orange) vitamin B, potassium, iron and twice the amount of fibre as brown rice.
Even a total novice in the kitchen can cook potatoes in a variety of simple ways. Three star chefs can have fun incorporating potatoes into their award winning menus. They take on other flavours brilliantly, spices and fresh herbs and ethnic ingredients add extra magic.
As organic farmers we grow a small quantity of 8 to 10 blight resistant potato varieties every year, fertilised in the traditional way with seaweed gathered from Shanagarry Strand after a storm. Not all blight resistant varieties are delicious some like Sarpo Mira tends to be a bit wet and soapy in some soils. This year has been horrendously difficult for potato farmers, with the combination of rain and ideal conditions for blight.
The recent decision by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to grant permission to Teagasc to do trials of GM (Genetically Modified) potatoes in the open has been welcomed by many in the farming industry and caused concern among others who have reservations about the Genetic Modification of food and the impact of the decision on Irelandâ€™s image of a clean green Ireland.
Thus far Ireland is a GM free Ireland but as one pragmatist remarked to me â€˜you can only lose your virginity onceâ€™
Should the trials be successful, will the general public many of whom have shown a distinct reluctance to embrace GM foods flock to buy GM potatoes. How will this affect our food export?
Earlier this year in response to the deep unease and sense of helplessness ordinary citizens feel around this topic, Kaethe Burt Oâ€™Dea and a number of others started a project called SPUDS who distributed blight resistant seeds to approximately 300 growers â€“ large and small â€“ across the country. Over the next five months they will record their progress in growing and tending to these potatoes and at harvest time they will document the yield and taste of their crop. This community based research will be analysed and be then published in early 2013 around the country. www.spuds.ie
Potato and Sweetcorn Chowder
A satisfying and filling soup made in a short time.Â This could be a supper dish if eaten with a few scones and followed by a salad.
In season: all year
2-3 medium potatoes, parboiled for 10 minutes, drained, peeled and finely chopped
450g (1 lb) sweetcorn kernels
30g (1 oz) butter
170g (6 oz) approx. onion, finely chopped
300ml (10 fl oz) home-made chicken stock
300ml (10 fl oz) milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
250ml (8 fl oz) light cream or creamy milk
roasted red pepper dice or crispy bacon dice
sprigs of flat parsley
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onion and potato and sweat until soft but not coloured.Â Gradually add in the stock and milk, stirring all the time, and bring to the boil.Â Simmer for a few minutes, add the corn, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and cook gently for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.Â Add the cream and heat through gently without boiling.
Serve in hot bowls with a little dice of roasted red pepper or crispy bacon and parsley on top.
Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it out with a little chicken or vegetable stock.
Hot Potato Cakes with CrÃ¨me FrÃ¡iche and Smoked Salmon
In season- year round
900g (2 lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
30g â€“ 55g (1-2 oz) (30-55g) butter
55g (2 oz) flour
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, chives and lemon thyme, mixed, (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
bacon fat, clarified butter or olive oil for frying
8 generous slices of smoked salmon or smoked trout
Cook the potatoes in their jackets, pull off the peel and mash right away, add the flour and herbs. Season with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper, adding a few drops of creamy milk if the mixture is altogether too stiff. Mix well. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shape into potato cakes 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and then cut into rounds. Dip in seasoned flour.
Fry the potato cakes in clarified butter until golden on one side, then flip over and cook on the other side, 4-5 minutes approx. they should be crusty and golden.Â Serve on very hot plates.
Put a blob of creme fraiche on top of each potato cake. Top with slivers of smoked salmon and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.
Crusty Potatoes with Ginger and Garlic
In parts of India they eat almost as many potatoes as the Irish, but they don’t just boil or roast them – many are deliciously spiced.Â This recipe given which was given to me byÂ Madhur Jaffrey is one of my favourites.
12 lbs (675g) ‘old’ potatoes -Â Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
Piece of fresh ginger, about 2 x 1 x 1 inch (5 x 2.5 x 2.5cm), peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
sunflower or peanut oil
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds (optional)
Boil the potatoes in their jackets until just cooked.Â Drain them and let them cool. Peel the potatoes and cut them into :-1 inch (2-2.5cm) dice.
Put the chopped fresh ginger, crushed garlic, water, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper into the container of a food processor, blend to a paste.
Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the fennel seeds. Let them sizzle for a few seconds (careful not to let them burn) add in the spice paste. Stir and fry for 2 minutes. Put in the potatoes. Stir and fry for 5-7 minutes over a medium-high flame or until the potatoes have aÂ nice, golden-brown crust. Sprinkle with chopped parsley or coriander. Serve on their own, perhaps with Cucumber and Yoghurt Raita or as an accompaniment to grilled or roast meat.
Spicy Aubergine Stew with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Chickpeas
( Taken From Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian)
Serves 4 – 6
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
a large pinch of ground asafoetida
1Â½ teaspoons cumin seeds
3 dried red chillies
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
340g (12ozs) potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5 – 4cm (1 – 1Â½ in) chunks
340g (12 oz) long, slim aubergines (Japanese or Italian), cut across into 2.5 – 4 cm (1 – 1Â½) chunks
340g (12 oz) large white mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters to match size of other vegetable pieces
Â¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
250ml (8 fl oz) tomata passata
2Â¼ teaspoons salt
85g (3oz) fresh coriander, very finely chopped (leaves, stems and roots)
400g (14 oz ) drained cooked chickpeas (see below)
How to cook dried chickpeas:
For 250g (9oz) dried chickpeas, use 1.5 litres (2Â½ pints) water.Â Put the soaked chickpeas and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.Â Turn the heat to low, cover and cook gently for 1 – 3 hours, or until the chickpeas are very tender.Â Salt, about 1Â½ teaspoons, may be added in the last half hour of cooking unless the recipe tells you to put it in later.
Put the oil into a large, wide pan and set over high heat.Â When hot, put in the asafetida and cumin seeds.Â Let them sizzle for 10 seconds.Â Put in the whole red chillies.Â As soon as they swell and darken – a matter of seconds – put in the garlic and potatoes.Â Stir and fry for 1 minute.Â Put in the aubergine chunks, and stir and fry for 2 minutes.Â Put in the mushrooms, and stir and fry for another 2 minutes.Â Now add the turmeric and ground coriander.Â Stir once, then pour in the tomato passata and 1 litre (1Â¾ pints) water.Â Add the salt, fresh coriander and chickpeas.Â Bring to the boil.Â Cover, turn the heat to low and cook gently for 35 – 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.Â Serve hot.
The Great British Cheese Festival 2012 from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd September, at Cardiff Castle – fantastic atmosphere with a huge selection of cheese including Irish Farmhouse Cheese to try, taste and buy. Masterclasses, demos and live music. www.greatbritishcheesefestival.co.uk
Several exciting new stalls have popped up at the Midleton Farmers Marketâ€¦
Local fisherman, Michael Barrett has Fresh lobsters and crabs in season nestled on a bed of seaweed: Tel 0876000438
Siobhan, daughter of Jane Murphy who makes the multi-award winning Ardsallagh Goat Cheese has started her own cheesy business under the name of Carrig Foods – Timo’s Irish cheddar in block and grated, Aged Parmesan pieces and grated and a cute little collection of Irish Farmhouse cheeses perfect for a picnic. Tel: 021-4882338.
Donâ€™t miss Lucy Deeganâ€™s Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms, Shitake Bacon, crispy and totally delicious as a nibble or over salads. Thereâ€™s also porcini dust, porcini oil, wild mushroom ketchup, seriously mushroomy mushroom soup, a great little business offering lots of temptations both at Midleton and Mahon Point Farmers Markets – Tel: 0868100808
Tempting Tipperary Organic Ice Cream in many flavours â€“ also a new addition â€“ great with Rose Cottage Berries. New seasons blueberries have just arrived and thereâ€™s much much moreâ€¦
Midleton Farmers Market is on every Saturday from 9:00am to 2:00pm www.midletonfarmersmarket.com
Mahon Point Farmers Market is on every Thursday from 10am to 2pm www.mahonpointfarmersmarket.com