Last year was my first time growing my own potatoes. I ordered a few heritage varieties from Seed Savers, varieties that would be difficult to find in the shops, some early and some main crop. I planted them late enough in the season so as to avoid any late frosts as we are prone to here in the West.
They grew readily with the (plentiful) rain and flowered in white, yellow and some in a glorious purple. The leaves faded and died back, so it was time to harvest.
It was lovely to see the childrens' delight at sifting through the soil and discovering hidden potatoes, like a messy easter egg hunt… potatoes with skins so thin that you could brush them off with your thumb. The taste of those freshly dug little earlies, with butter, ground pepper and fat flakes of sea salt was amazing. I was smitten.
To my Irish readers - there is something we should all do, and that is to be careful to read the country of origin on our potato choices because for most weeks of the year we should be buying Irish and eating our way out of recession one spud at a time.
To my American, Australian and European readers, and the lady in Africa - Irish spuds are great, pick them up if you see them!
Potatoes, as we know, are not from here, but somehow they have become more Irish than the Irish themselves. You can throw any number of herbs and spices at them and they just smile and take it as a compliment. A bowl of leftover mash in the back of the fridge or a few cold boiled potatoes in their skins is a treasure waiting to be explored. Whether it's a baked potato, stuffed to bursting, or mountains of creamy mash atop a shepherds pie or even fish & chips - the potato seems to make its way onto my plate more often than not. I sometimes think that it is the only way to get through an Irish winter. Steamed, boiled, sauteed, fried, deep-fried or baked… each method provides its own unique flavour and texture.
The humble potato has come a long way. Years ago it was seen as something that was fit only for animal fodder. Nowadays, in the form of fries, served with burgers and a coke, they are an icon of globalisation. But the poor old spud is on the decline here in Ireland. There are a lot of forces at work against them, the 'Low Carb' brigade, the charms of more exotic additions of rice, pasta and couscous dishes that we now eat as a nation. They have a undeservedly unhealthy reputation too - they only have as much fat as is added to them, yet are full of nutrition, a great source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fibre and niacin and all that good stuff that we should care about.
Nearly every other nation on earth has a favourite potato dish. Exotic, elegant, plain or traditional. Here's one I love from Sweden.
Hasselbacks are the best known of the swedish potato recipes. The original uses butter and breadcrumbs, sometimes parmesan. Bay leaves are a favorite scandinavian herb. The potatoes are slices deeply, almost to the base so that the slices open out slightly like a fan when cooked and the edges get beautifully crispy and golden.
24 small new potatoes
fresh or dried bay leaves (fresh look prettier in the finished dish)
3 tbsp olive oil
4 - 7 garlic cloves left whole in their skins
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 200C
To prepare the potatoes, scrub and cut. The easiest way I have found is to place 2 chopsticks on a board and lay the potato lengthways. Using a sharp knife and holding the potato in place with the sticks, make crossways cuts 3mm apart cutting just down as far as the sticks. You could alternatively place them on a wooden spoon, or I have also seen them speared with a skewer about 5mm from the base, sliced across and the skewer removed. Anyway that stops the knife slicing clean through the potato will do.
Insert a whole small bay leaf in each sliced potato. Melt the butter and oil together in a roasting tin add the garlic and the potatoes in a single layer and season generously with freshly ground pepper and sea salt flakes. Move them around in the oil to coat all over and color a little then transfer to the oven and roast for about 30 mins depending on the size of your potatoes.
Serve as an accompaniment to roast or grilled meat or poultry, baked salmon or panfried white fish.
If you want a few more ideas on how to liven up your potatoes - 'The Daily Spud' is the spiritual leader of potato lovers everywhere. This spud blogs from the glorious capital on all things spud related with a huge amount of potato ideas for you to drool over. http://www.thedailyspud.com/category/recipes/potato-recipes/
|Some of my first spuds and peas, with small cousins.|
If you want to get information or involved in the discussion about the difficulties facing the Irish potato producers, this is the blog to go to. It's not run by a potato, but an actual lady, who is a champion of Irish food and all that that entails. She also has lovely hair that I would like for myself.