National Potato Day was on 23rd August and even though I missed it this year I really want to dedicate my column this week to the sometimes glorious spud. It’s all about the variety and how they are grown.
For the past few weeks we’ve been eating the most beautiful floury British Queens and Sharpes Express. Soon we’ll have Ratte and Pink Fir Apple. The latter are a delicious fingerling potato but definitely susceptible to blight which hasn’t been much of a problem this year but was a nightmare last season. We all know that the potato is a wonderfully nourishing food yet most Irish families now reach for bag of pasta rather than boil a few new potatoes which take a very similar length of time to cook.
There are few things so thrilling as digging potatoes you planted a few months earlier. Where you planted a single potato you’ll find anything from 5 to 10 potatoes hidden in the soil. Doesn’t matter whether you are a farmer or a scientist or a hedge fund manager, you can’t help being touched by the miracle of nature. I’m delighted to see that so many more people, plus schools are planting potatoes again. I can’t tell you how many people have said how wildly excited they were to be growing a few potatoes, for the first time, suddenly they realise how delicious simply boiled potatoes can be with a few flakes of sea salt and a nice little chunk of butter melting over the top. Freshness really matters.
I’m a big fan of the old varieties and have very little ‘meas’ on Roosters, the all-purpose variety developed a number of years ago, for me it doesn’t hold a candle to the Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pink. Fortunately, potatoes are set to follow the heirloom tomato route – the more tasteless the generic varieties become the greater the demand for a potato with real flavour. So far country markets, farmers markets and independent shops are probably the best source of local potatoes, note the variety and the grower.
The Teagasc research station in Oakpark in Co Carlow has been conducting trails on GM (genetically modified) resistant potatoes since 2010. At first the trials were in the lab but last year permission was granted to plant the potato in the open close to the research station in Co Carlow. The duration for the consent is for four years, from 2012 to 2016 (inclusive) with post-trial monitoring continuing until 2020. Planting will not exceed two hectares in area.
This is of particular concern to those who feel strongly that Ireland should remain GM free and safeguard our clean green image so vital for the marketing of Irish food in the future. As organic farmers we grow blight resistant varieties with considerable success. In 1998 when protein scientist Professor Arpad Pusztai fed GM potatoes to rats in a study at the Rowett Institute. Twelve feeding experiments were conducted, ten short-term (10 days) and two long-term (110 days). Rats fed raw or cooked potato modified with the GNA gene showed statistically significant thickening of the stomach mucosa compared to rats fed the unmodified potato. As these effects were not observed in rats fed control potatoes injected with GNA protein, Pusztai concluded that the differences were a result of the transformation procedure. He found that he incurred the full wrath of the pro GM lobby and his research was discredited – interestingly several other research projects have come up with similar conclusions since then…
The Keogh family who instigated National Potato Day in 2011 have started a national campaign to designate the potato as our national vegetable – a splendid idea but will a GM potato have the same appeal who exactly will be clamouring to buy Genetically Modified potatoes.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Cauliflower with Potatoes (Aloo Gobi)
From Gurbax Kaur in Bradford
600g (1lb 5oz) cauliflower, cut into florets 5x5cm (2 x 2 inches), plus 1 handful of medium diced stalk and leaves
450g (1lb) potato, peeled and cut into fat chips, 5cm x 2cm (2 x 3/4 inches)
oil for deep frying
2 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon freshly grated or mashed garlic
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 medium tomato, finely diced
3-4 green chilies, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped
Pour the oil for deep-frying into a wok or Indian karhai and set on a medium-high heat. Wait for it to get very hot. Fry the cauliflower in two batches, about 2 minutes a batch, or until light brown all over. Remove and drain on kitchen towels. Ensure the oil has time to reheat between batches. Add all the potatoes to the oil and fry for 5- 6 minutes or till golden all over. Remove and drain on kitchen towels. (Strain the oil and save it for future use.)
Set a clean wok or heavy based pan, about 20cm (8 inches) in diameter, on a medium heat. Pour in the oil and when hot, add the onions. Sauté them for 2 minutes. Add the cumin seeds. Stir and fry for 3 – 5 minutes or until the onions are light brown. Spoon in the garlic and ginger. Continue to stir for 2 minutes, adding a splash of hot water if the mixture starts to stick. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes or until they have completely integrated. Sprinkle in the chilies and salt and stir for 1 minute. Add the fenugreek leaves, stirring again for 1 minute. Spoon in the turmeric powder and mix well. Add another splash of water if necessary and then tip in the cauliflower stems and cook, stirring, for 6 minutes or until soft. Add a little water if the wok seems to dry out. Now put in the cauliflower, potatoes and coriander, mix gently and cook for 2 more minutes.
Mallika’s Punjabi Potato Cakes
6 potatoes (boiled, peeled and mashed)
110g (4oz) green peas (boiled and mashed coarsely)
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 small or 1 medium carrot (grated from the thicker side of the grater and squeezed to get rid of excess water)
1 green chilli (deseeded and finely chopped)
2 heaped tablespoon coriander chopped
50g (2oz) bread crumbs (to bind)
salt and pepper (as per taste)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
sunflower oil (to fry)
Banana and Yoghurt Raita
In a mixing bowl mix together all the ingredients except the oil and knead and bind it all to form a ball. If there is some trouble in bringing it all together then you can add more breadcrumbs.
Let the mixture stand for ten minutes.
Meanwhile heat some oil in a deep fryer at 180°C/350°F.
Now form small balls of equal size from the potato mixture and flatten it between your palms to form cakes.
Deep fry them until crispy and golden on the outside. Alternatively you can also shallow fry them on a griddle or a non-stick pan. Serve with accompanying chutneys.
Buttermilk Smashed Potatoes
1.8kg (4lb) potatoes (Golden Wonders or Kerr Pinks)
425-600ml (15-20fl oz) buttermilk, if low fat use 25-50ml (1-2fl oz) cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
25-50g (1-2 oz) butter
4 scallions, optional
Scrub the potatoes really well, put into a saucepan. Cover with cold water, add salt, bring to the boil, cover and cook until almost tender. Pour off most of the water. Cover the saucepan and steam until fully cooked. Drain off any remaining water. Mash the potatoes coarsely with a potato masher; add some buttermilk, a large lump of butter, lots of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the finely sliced scallions, if using. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Camilla Plum’s Gravad Fish with Dill Creamed Potatoes
This classic Scandinavian dish works perfectly with all kinds of fatty fish, including salmon, herrings, mackerel, whitefish and Greenland halibut. If possible, use whole fish with just the head and bones removed; the skin must be left on. It is of course, as with sushi, absolutely essential to use very fresh fish.
1.25kg (3lb) fatty fish fillets of your choice (skin on)
For the Spice Rub
4 tablespoons coarse Sea salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper or even better, Garins of Paradise.
1 teaspoon roasted caraway seeds
handful sweet cicely leaves,
40ml (1 1/2fl oz) Schnapps
Smother the skin side of the fish in the spice rub, cover with cling film and put something heavy on top, to press it slightly. Put the fish in the fridge for 24 hours, turning the fish a couple of times.
Take it out, but leave the spices on, slice very thinly, serve with dill creamed potatoes.
Dill Creamed Potatoes
1kg (2 1/4lb) waxy potatoes, boiled for 8 minutes in salted water
400ml (14fl oz) full cream
salt and coarsely ground black pepper
big bunch dill, chopped, with stalks
Cut potatoes in quarters, and put in a sauté pan with the cream, salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender, and the cream reduced to a negligee covering the potatoes, adjust seasoning and add dill at the last moment of the heat.
Patatas Bravas (Potatoes in Tomato Sauce)
3 tbsp olive oil
1¼lb (600g) potatoes cut into 2cm cubes
1 small onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp fino sherry
4½ozs (125g) canned chopped tomatoes
½ tsp dried chilli flakes, well crushed
½ tsp freshly grated orange zest
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
1 fresh bay leaf
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan, add the potatoes and mix well. Cook for 15 minutes until golden brown.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in another frying pan, add the onion and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sherry, and then simmer for 1 minute to burn off the alcohol. Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, chilli, orange zest, sugar, parsley and bay leaf. Cook for 10 minutes – add the water to stop the mixture thickening too much.
Transfer the cooked potatoes to a serving bowl, pour over the tomato sauce and mix well. This can be made a day in advance and reheated before serving.
A feast in the East! The tenth Midleton Food and Drink Festival – Saturday 14th September with over 60 stalls this year in the open air food and drink market. Enjoy the carnival atmosphere with street performance artists, craft exhibitions, whiskey and wine tastings and a full programme of food and cookery demonstrations. Little ones will love The Decorate a Cupcake Challenge! www.midletonfoodfestival.ie/
Highbank Orchard is celebrating the harvest with a gathering of all Kilkenny Trails for a Harvest Picnic, Food and Craft Fair on Sunday 29th September. They are inviting genuine Irish Food and Craft Producers to take part. There is a limited space for stalls so if you are interested please contact Highbank Organic Farm +353 (0)56 7729918
Rachel Allen has a delicious range of ready baked cakes in a box, dark chocolate brownie cake, toffee apple and ginger cake, orange and almond drizzle cake. They make a nice change to giving a bottle of wine at a dinner party and only take a minute to heat up and serve with a little softly whipped cream www.rachelallen.com