A world of potatoes
Doesn’t matter the cuisine, potatoes taste great in any language. And, despite the bad rap they often get from the health and diet conscious, nutritionist Nadia Lim says they are actually good guys and should be included in our mealtimes. Meanwhile, take your inspiration from these global potato recipes and our cooking tips.
A Swiss potato cake, rosti (pronounced reurschti) is traditionally eaten by the German-speaking part of the country at breakfast. These days, however, rosti can be found the world over and at all mealtimes. It always involved coarsely grated potatoes but sometimes these are parboiled, left until cold and then grated (a softer potato cake results) or the potato can be grated raw and then squeezed in a tea towel to remove excess liquid. Removing the water helps with crispness. This raw-potato version does have more texture but care needs to be taken to ensure the cake is cooked through. Floury or waxy potatoes can be used but the floury, particularly when parboiled, do tend towards mash. The choice is yours!
Few New Zealanders will have goose fat in the fridge for frying rosti so choose from duck fat, butter or oil. The cake should be about 1-2cm thick and it’s important not to move the rosti until a nice thick golden crust forms on the bottom. Then it can be flipped over. Recipes for rosti vary, of course, and can include bacon, caraway seeds, onion, eggs, rosemary and cheese – even apple.
Floury potatoes are essential for these delicious Italian dumplings that are made throughout Italy, and not just with potatoes, but with semolina, buckwheat, chestnut flour, spinach, ricotta and more. Homemade gnocchi are infinitely better than store-bought versions which tend to be heavy. Make a big batch and freeze the remainder. Simply coat the dumplings in a little flour and place in a single layer in a snap-lock bag. Then cook from frozen.
Gnocchi are not hard to make as long as a few tips are kept in mind. The potatoes need to be dry so bake them in the oven or boil whole with the skins left on. Peel when cool enough to handle but while potatoes are still warm. The potato is then passed through a ricer or sieve to aerate it. Don’t be tempted to use a food processor. You will make glue. Too much flour results in heavy gnocchi and you may not need all the flour the recipe stipulates. Knead only as long as it takes the dough to come together. Test a couple of gnocchi in a saucepan of boiling water. If they fall apart, knead in a little more flour. Egg, too, helps bind the gnocchi together. Eliminating it makes for lighter gnocchi but it also makes the dough harder to work with.
Do not overcook your gnocchi or they will turn to mush. Remove from the water as soon as they bob to the surface. Serve with any pasta sauce or simply, as they do in Italy, with browned butter and fresh sage leaves.
A thick garlicky puree with soaked stale bread or mashed floury potato, also sometimes containing pulverised walnuts or almonds, made smooth and silky with full-flavoured olive oil.
Skordalia, as in Amanda Laird’s recipe, can be served as a dip and is often offered in Greece as a mash with fried fish and vegetables (zucchini or eggplant and boiled beetroot). Vinegar or lemon juice is usually included in the recipe. If too thick, skordalia can be loosened with a little hot water.
Served at room temperature skordalia was traditionally made in a mortar and pestle but a food processor is faster can be used too.
In Spain the potato omelette is known as tortilla espanola because it is eaten everywhere: in wedges at home and on picnics, between slices of baguette as a sandwich filling and in cubes on cocktail sticks in tapas bars. As Claudia Roden in her cookbook The Food of Spain says, "Some people like to make it with potatoes only, some add onions. Some like it moist, others firm and dry. Some people slice the potatoes; some cut them into small dice."
Making a tortilla doesn't seem unduly complicated but Claudia goes on to issue this warning: "I will not pretend that tortilla de patatas is easy to make. On the contrary making tortilla is an art that has special methods and tricks and requires skill and intuition. In trying to make a large one I failed twice, partly because I didn't have the strength to turn a heavy frying pan on to a large platter without most of the uncooked part spilling out. I called my friend Alicia Rios in despair. She sent me five pages of 'secrets' for getting it right."
Claudia solved one of the dilemmas, putting her tortilla under the grill instead of turning it over! You could, too, or you could make individual ones as in this Viva recipe from Angela Casley. When cooking, care must also be taken to ensure that the raw potatoes and onions cook through without browning. Tortillas are traditionally made with a lot of olive oil that almost covers the potatoes and onions. It is then is poured off (and later reused).
The Spanish tortilla is almost identical to an Italian frittata but is generally thicker. Sometimes in Spain the onion and potato are joined with other flavourings: green or red pepper, chorizo, tuna, shrimp and vegetables. Tortillas should be served warm or at room temperature. Never cold.
Known traditionally as gratin dauphinois, this potato and cream dish comes from the Dauphine region in France. There are many variations but most use uncooked, very thinly sliced potatoes layered in a gratin dish that has been rubbed with garlic. Use a mandolin to slice the potatoes, if you have one.
Gratin Dauphinois must be cooked slowly in a low oven. Variations include the addition of gruyere cheese (usually to the top) although a cross-cultural twist means that sometimes Parmesan may be called for. There are proponents, too, who insist upon waxy potatoes. These do hold their shape better, but many chefs like the thirsty softness of the floury spud. And then there’s the dilemma of whether or not to wash the potato slices before assembly. Unwashed, they do help to thicken the sauce. For a lighter, midweek version use a mix of milk and cream but the result won’t be quite the same, of course.
Gratin Dauphinois goes well with roast meats and casseroles or, as Rick Stein favours, serve it stand-alone at lunchtime with a crisp green salad to offset the richness.
These little triangular shaped Indian snacks are usually vegetarian, made with potatoes, onions, peas and often lentils. Sometimes, though, they have minced lamb, beef or chicken fillings, too.
Samosas are fried or baked and made from a maida (processed white) flour dough that is kneaded to provide some elasticity and stop the fillings from poking through during cooking. Samosas are served with a mint sauce or chutney. When making, the filling needs to be cooled to room temperature before being wrapped in the pastry so the fat won’t leak out.
These samosas from Amanda Laird take a shortcut, using store-bought puff sheets that are baked, not fried. They will be popular with this tomato kasundi, a spicy Indian tomato sauce that is also delicious spread on cheesy sandwiches and barbecued meats.