The Humble Spud

T

This week’s column is a celebration of the potato – the super versatile, super nutritious and super cool tuber often referred to as the ‘humble spud’.

Somehow, despite its many virtues, the potato has managed to acquire a frumpy image. Several recent surveys indicate that potatoes sales are down whilst sales of rice pasta and noodles have risen significantly.

Millennials particularly are opting for microwavable options and see potatoes as a bit of a ‘faff to cook’. Many, it seems, prefer microwavable rice (although far more expensive) – I didn’t even know such a thing existed but apparently the market is now worth millions.

Well call me old fashioned but the potato is still my number one vegetable, it’s certainly not just ‘a bit on the side’. I’m still a dedicated aficionado for more reasons than I can mention, not least its nutrient density and flavour plus it’s naturally gluten free.

Recent research has also shown conclusively that potatoes contain blood pressure lowering compounds called kukoamines and a range of phytonutrients that act as antioxidants.

They are a rich source of vitamin B6, C and B1, both types of fibre and have more potassium than bananas – good for the brain, no fat, a brilliant source of energy, a slow release food and on and on it goes….

From the cooks point of view they are a blank canvas for all kinds of flavours. But there are spuds and spuds and variety really matters so try to find some of the old or what are now called heritage varieties in farmers markets and local greengrocers. I snap up local, organically grown potatoes whenever I can find them. At present we are enjoying (varieties on the off ask Eileen) and pink fir apple (a waxy fingerling type).

My favourite Winter varieties are Golden Wonders and Kerr’s Pinks which grow brilliantly in the soils around the Ballycotton area but also in pockets around the country so seek them out…..

 

Now I’m back in to the kitchen with bag of floury and a few waxy spuds. So what to do? There are so many delicious way to cook potatoes, they soak up a myriad of flavours, fresh herbs, spices…

The flavour of the East, Far East, Mexico, South America from whence they came. They are estimated to be well of over 4,000 native varieties still growing ‘in Peru. You can’t imagine how beautiful and diverse they are, every colour, shape, texture…like jewels.

 

Here in Ireland the most traditional way to cook potatoes is to boil them and I am rarely without a few left over boiled spuds in my fridge. They’re a brilliant standby and the basis of so many tasty filling supper dishes.

But a word about boiling potatoes, they can be bland and virtually tasteless or full of flavour depending on the variety and the way they are cooked…they need plenty of SALT in the water and cook them in their jackets. I add a tablespoon to 2 pints, better still use sea water….. If you happen to be near the coast or are out for a Sunday drive. Go for a paddle and bring back for a container of sea water with contains a host of other minerals and trace elements as well as salt.

As you stroll across the beach maybe pick up some kelp, add a piece to the pot for extra flavour and nutrients and bring a bag of mixed seaweed home to add to the soil in your garden. So here are some of my favourite ways to use up left over boiled potatoes.

 

Traditional Irish Jacket Potatoes

 

Here is the best way to cook old varieties, so they don’t dissolve into a mush before they are fully cooked. It’s not at all traditional, but a Chinese steamer over a wok, (with well-salted water underneath) works really well and the potatoes remain intact. Many people now peel potatoes before they boil them, however, it’s worth remembering that they have considerably more flavour if cook them in their jackets. Plus, there’s less waste, and most of the nutrients are just underneath the skin.

 

Serves 4

 

900g (2lb) ‘old’ potatoes such as Golden Wonders, Kerr’s Pink or Red Duke of York

salt

 

3 teaspoons of salt to every

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

 

Put the potatoes in a deep saucepan, cover with fresh, cold water and add salt. Cover and bring to the boil and continue to cook over a medium heat about 15 minutes, until half-cooked. Pour off most of the water, leaving about 2.5cm (1 inch) liquid in the saucepan. Reduce the heat, cover and leave the potatoes to steam for the remainder of the cooking time, at least a further 15 minutes, until a skewer goes through the centre easily.

 

Put into a hot serving dish and serve with lots of good butter or a terrific olive oil (rather than on top) and some flaky sea salt.

 

Potatoes with Cumin and Ginger

Love the way the cayenne and spices can add oomph to leftover potatoes in this recipe. Enjoy them on their own or as a ‘ side’ with a couple of lamb chop

 

Serves 6

 

1kg (2¼lbs) potatoes, cooked in jackets in well salted water

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin, freshly roasted

3 teaspoons freshly ginger, grated

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

a generous pinch of cayenne

3 tablespoons freshly ground coriander

 

Peel the potatoes and cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes.  Heat a wide frying pan.  Pour in the oil, and add the freshly ground cumin, ginger, salt, pepper and cayenne.  Stir and add the potatoes, toss gently and cook until the potatoes are hot and crusted with the spices.  Sprinkle with chopped coriander.  Taste. Correct seasoning.

 

 

Potato and Pecorino Frittata

I love the flavour of Pecorino with the eggs and new potatoes it gives the dish real depth of flavour.  However, Parmesan would be a good alternative.  The fritatta is great for a picnic or cut into neat squares and serve as a pre-dinner nibble or canapé.

Serves 4

 

450g/1lb new potatoes or left over potatoes

2 tablespoons light olive oil

1 small onion, finely sliced

6 free-range eggs

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

140g/5oz Pecorino finely grated,

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes until tender to the point of a knife.  Allow to cool slightly, then cut into chunky slices.

Heat a heavy-based non-stick frying pan big enough to take all the ingredients.  Add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.

 

Meanwhile whisk together the eggs and chives.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper then add the cheese and whisk again.

Heat the grill to moderately hot.

Add the potato slices to the onions and then pour over the egg mixture.  Cook over a low heat until the edges are beginning to firm up and the frittata is lightly set.  This may take up to ten minutes.

Finally place under the grill.  Don’t place the pan too close to the heat or it will burn on top before the centre is cooked.  Cook for 2-3 minutes until the eggs are set and the top is a lovely golden colour.

Serve hot or cold.  This would be delicious with a mixed leaf and tomato salad.

 

Note: Alternatively cook in a pre-heated at 160C for 10 to 12 minutes

 

Elizabeth’s Cheesy Potatoes

Serves 2-3

This was one of my sister Elizabeth’s favourite recipes when she was a penniless student but it continues to be one of our favourite recipes, loved by all the family of every age.

 

1lb (450g) left over boiled potatoes, peeled and dice into 1 inch (2cm) dice

1/3 pints (150ml) whole milk

4ozs (110g) Irish Cheddar cheese, grated

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

greased pie dish – 1 pint (600ml) – capacity

 

Put the diced potatoes into a saucepan, add the cold milk, season with freshly ground pepper and salt. Stir over a low heat until the potatoes have absorbed the milk, then add 3ozs (85g) grated cheese and stir gently, then turn into a pie dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1oz (30g) grated cheese over the top. Cook in a preheated oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, until nicely brown on top, approx. 20 minutes.

Note: Some potatoes will absorb more milk than others, if the mixture looks a little dry, add a little more milk. Delicious served with fish.

 

This recipe can be varied a little by adding some chopped cooked smoked ham or rasher, or a little sautéed onion.

 

Rustic Roast Potatoes with Sweet Chilli Sauce & Sour Cream

All the rage in Oz.

 

Serves 4

 

1½lbs (680g) rustic roast potatoes (see recipe)

Sweet Chilli Sauce *

Sour cream

 

To Serve

When the rustic roast potatoes are crisp and golden.  Drain on absorbent kitchen paper.  Season with salt.

Serve immediately in a deep bowl with a little bowl of sweet chilli sauce and sour cream on each plate.

 

Note: Deep-fried cooked potato may be used instead.

Rustic Roast Potatoes

Serves 4-6

 

These are my children’s favourite kind of roast spuds. They particularly love all the crusty skin.

 

6 large ‘old’ potatoes eg. Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pinks

Olive oil or beef dripping (unless for Vegetarians)-duck or goose fat are also delicious

Sea salt

 

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8.   Scrub the potatoes well, cut into quarters lengthways or cut into thick rounds ¾ inch (2cm) approx.   Put into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and toss so they are barely coated with olive oil.   Roast in a preheated oven for 30-45 minutes depending on size.  Sprinkle with sea salt and serve in a hot terracotta dish.

Rustic Roast Potatoes with Garlic Cloves

18 garlic cloves

 

Proceed as above, add the garlic after the potatoes have been cooking for 10 – 15 minutes. Toss in the oil.  Keep an eye on the garlic cloves, they will probably be cooked before the potatoes, if so remove and keep warm in a serving dish.

Press the soft sweet garlic out of the skins and eat with the crispy potatoes

 

 

 

Sauté Potatoes with Rosemary

 

 

Sounds so easy but it is surprisingly difficult to do perfect sauté potatoes – the secret is to allow to brown well on one side before turning over

 

900g (2lbs) potatoes

extra virgin olive oil

fresh rosemary sprigs

pepper and salt

 

Boil the potatoes in their jackets until just cooked. Peel and cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) slices. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, scatter in some fresh rosemary. Cook the slices of potato over a medium heat until golden on one side, then turn over and cook until golden on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper and season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper before serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

 

Sauté Potatoes with Sage Leaves

Substitute sage leaves for rosemary in the above recipe.

 

For garnish

Heat 2.5cm (1 inch) olive oil in a frying pan, deep fry sage leaves for a few seconds until crisp and frizzy, drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle over the sauté potatoes as garnish.

 

Potato Spring Onion Salad

Serves 4-6

 

900g (2lbs) freshly cooked potatoes – diced, allow about 1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) raw potatoes

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions or 2 teaspoons chopped onion

110ml (4fl oz) French Dressing

110ml (4fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

lots of nasturtium leaves and red, orange and yellow nasturtium flowers (75-110g/3 – 4oz)

 

The potatoes should be boiled in their jackets and peeled, diced and measured while still hot. Mix immediately with onion, parsley, salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the French dressing, allow to cool and finally add the mayonnaise. Toss in the coarsely chopped nasturtium leaves and two thirds of the flowers.

Best served fresh but keeps well for about 2 days.

 

Note: This potato salad is also delicious without mayonnaise.   Potato salad may be used as a base for other salads, eg. add cubes of chorizo, cooked mussels or cockles or even diced cucumber.

 

Variations

Hot Potato Salad

 

Serves 4-6

 

Serve with sausages, boiled bacon, hot terrine, hot spiced beef or pate. Can be accompanied by red cabbage.

 

Ingredients as for potato salad above plus the following:

2 hard-boiled eggs

2 tablespoons chopped gherkins

 

Make as above, but omit the mayonnaise. Add the eggs cut in 5mm (1/4 inch) dice, gherkins and capers if used.

 

 

Piped Potato Salad

 

1 generous litre freshly mashed potato

 

Add French dressing, finely chopped parsley, chives and mayonnaise to the stiff potato to taste. Pipe onto individual leaves of lettuce or use to garnish starter salad or hors d’oevures.

 


Potato and Thyme Leaf Salad

 

Serves 6 approximately

 

Scant quart cooked potatoes peeled and cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

 

110ml (4fl oz) fruity extra virgin olive oil

2-4 tablespoons thyme leaves and thyme flowers if available

sea salt and pepper to taste

 

Coat potatoes in a good extra virgin oil while still warm. Season to taste. Sprinkle liberally with fresh thyme leaves.  Garnish with lots of purple and mauve thyme flowers.

Twice Cooked Roasted Potatoes with Shallots and Thyme leaves

Serves 8-10

I love to cook potatoes and shallots (or baby onions) in the roasting tin after I’ve roasted a duck.  The fat and juices soak into the potato and shallots and give them a sublime flavour.

 

8-10 large potatoes cooked in their jackets in boiling salted water

24-30 shallots

Duck or goose fat or extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 tablespoons thyme leaves

 

 

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8.  If the potatoes are new season, there’s no need to peel them, otherwise remove the skin.  Cut into approximately 2cm (3/4 inches) thick slices.  Peel the shallots and cut in half if large.  Heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of duck or goose fat in 1 or 2 roasting tins.  (Alternatively use extra virgin olive oil.)  Put in the potato slices and shallots.  Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and thyme leaves.  Toss gently to coat in the duck or goose fat.  Roast for 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven, turning regularly until the outsides are all crisp and golden.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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