Get the idea: Potatoes for St Patrick's Day
Is it too much of a cliché to write a piece on potatoes for St Patrick’s Day? Does it border on racial profiling? Because of the devastating famine in the mid-19th century, potatoes have a particular link with Ireland in many people’s minds.
I think I read in a Jan Morris’ history of Victorian England that, interestingly, the Irish were considered one of the healthiest groups in the Empire owing to their diet of potatoes, milk, bacon and cabbage. Makes sense.
There are also excellent potato dishes in the Irish culinary repertoire. Colcannon and Irish stew are a couple of my favourites. Potatoes are with us all year round. Their non aggressive, yet satisfying, flavour can stand up to hot fat, roasting temperatures and searing steam.
With cooking they metamorphose from tasting like unappealing crunchy starch with a hint of mustiness, to a creamy, crisp or fluffy comfort food that turns somersaults when sprinkled with salt. Cook a St Pat’s Day dinner using this essential vegetable and do your version of one of the following.
One of Ireland’s greatest gifts to the world, up there with James Joyce, is colcannon. This ingenious combination of a few simple ingredients is much more than the sum of its parts. Put some hot mashed agria potatoes in a warm serving bowl and add a little hot cream, butter, thinly sliced spring onions and plenty of thinly sliced, boiled or steamed curly kale or green cabbage. Fold together, taste, season and serve with crisp pork chops or thick crisp-fried bacon.
Slice some well-scrubbed agria potatoes about 1 cm thick and parboil in salted water until just tender but not collapsing. Drain well and cool. Roll out a rectangle of made-with-butter flaky pastry and place the potato slices along the middle, piled on top of each other. Put a layer of well drained sauerkraut on top and top with plenty of grated tasty cheese and chopped parsley. Fold the pastry over and crimp the ends together so that it is like a big sausage roll. Brush with egg and bake at 200C for 30 minutes or until well cooked. Serve in slices with salad.
Buy or make some potato gnocchi, boil in salted water and serve with a sauce of onion, finely diced pancetta, sliced button mushrooms, garlic and a little red chilli, slow fried in extra virgin olive oil, to which is then added halved cherry tomatoes. Everything is fried until the tomatoes begin to collapse. Serve tossed with the gnocchi, sprinkled with basil leaves.
Jewish latkes are small crisp, grated potato fritters. Make them by grating potatoes, rinsing off the starch and squeezing dry. Mix with a little flour, chopped onion and beaten egg. Fry large spoonfuls in hot oil (don’t turn them until the bottom is well browned or they will fall to pieces) and serve with smoked salmon and horseradish cream, made from a mix of 2 parts sour cream, 1 part bought horseradish and some chopped dill. Good also with a mix of grated beetroot, some horseradish and a little vinegar.
I love potato gratins and here are ideas for three of them:
Jansson’s Temptation — layer thinly sliced waxy potatoes in a shallow gratin dish with lots of thinly sliced onions and drained anchovy fillets. Dot the top with butter and pour over enough cream to just cover the potatoes. You should still see them. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for 1 hour at 200C or until a skewer pushed into the middle meets no resistance.
Make a gratin with thinly sliced agria potatoes, lemon zest and crumbled blue cheese. Just cover with cream, sprinkle walnut pieces and a couple of bay leaves on top and bake 200C for 1 hour. Cover loosely with foil if the nuts look like burning.
Boil some peeled agria potatoes, drain well and crush coarsely with a fork. Fry chopped onion, chopped chemical-free bacon, sage leaves and chopped garlic in extra virgin olive oil for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add this to the potatoes along with some chopped chives. Taste, season and spoon into an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle a generous layer of grated tasty cheese and breadcrumbs on top and place in a 200C oven until golden and bubbling.
Simmer peeled, diced agria, or similar floury potatoes, in well-flavoured chicken stock to just cover, adding lemon zest and chopped garlic, and cook until the potatoes are soft. Throw in a couple of large handfuls of wild rocket leaves and let them wilt. Puree in a food processor until you just have a coarse puree. Don’t overprocess or the potatoes will become gluey. Taste, season and serve with a dollop of plain unsweetened, naturally thickened yoghurt.
Make a warm potato salad with diced boiled agria potatoes, sliced golden-fried or barbecued bratwurst (or your favourite pork sausage), sliced boiled green beans, capers, a little finely chopped garlic, parsley, finely diced gherkins and dill sprigs. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.
Make smoked fish and potato chowder. Slow fry chopped onion, finely diced carrot, thinly sliced celery, fennel, and the kernels from a couple of sweet corn cobs in a little butter or oil for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add lots of peeled, diced potatoes and cover with chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer until the potatoes are soft, then crush the potatoes in the liquid with a potato masher. Bring back to the boil and add plenty of skinned, boned smoked fish. Mix and simmer until the fish is hot. Stir in some chopped chives and serve.