Drat, I’ve just discovered that I missed National Potato Day. It was on Friday, October, 4. Somehow it whizzed by without me registering but I really want to write a column extolling the virtues of my veggie hero —my top pick for a desert island staple.
Why do we insist on calling it the humble spud when for me it is the most versatile of all vegetables.
It can be dressed up or down, boiled, fried, sautéed, mashed, pureed, roasted, layered up in a gratin, served as a side or presented as the main attraction. Like on the menu at terroir-based café, Tartare in Galway.
Multi award-winning chef JP McMahon served new season potatoes in sea herb butter on the dinner menu.
The oval potatoes came in a viscous broth sprinkled with dillisk seaweed and fresh mint — an inspired contemporary celebration of freshly dug organic potatoes from Beech Lawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe where JP gets many of his fresh organic vegetables.
This week, I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland meeting artisan food producers and visiting some ‘off the beaten track’ tourist attractions.
I was particularly intrigued by two enterprising women, Tracey Jeffrey from Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen (traceysfarmhousekitchen.com) and Bronagh Duffin at the Bakehouse in Bellaghy (bakehouseni.com).
Tracey welcomes visitors and small groups who would like to learn the simple art of bread baking to her farmhouse. She made wheaten farls and fruit bannocks and taught us how to make fadge (potato bread) — a real taste of Ulster baking. I really wanted to learn how to make this traditional Ulster favourite.
Turns out Tracey and Bronagh make it in quite different ways.
Tracey explained how potato bread was originally made as a way to use up leftover mashed potato. She kneaded the well-seasoned mash into some flour, then rolled it into a ¾ inch thick round and then cut it into four farls (quarters) - these were originally cooked on a griddle over a turf fire but Tracey cooked them on an electric crepe pan (an ingenious idea), but of course, a dry frying pan also works perfectly.
When they were speckled on both sides, Tracey slathered them with Abernethy’s Dillisk butter churned down the road in Dromara, Co Down.
I stayed at Ballyscullion Park, Richard and Rosalind Mullholland’s beautiful Regency house, now a favoured wedding destination amidst the gardens and parkland.
George, son of the house, cooked us a delicious country house dinner, the starter of home-grown tomatoes, fennel and halloumi had a drizzle of truffle-flavoured Burren Balsamic on top — which added an extra delicious ‘je ne se quoi’ to the dish (ballyscullionpark.com).
A buttery potato gratin was served with slow cooked lamb, kale and runner beans.
A potato gratin is such a versatile dish, it can be a meal in itself or a just ‘pop into the oven’ accompaniment.
I’m particularly fond of Indian potato dishes too, a few spices elevate potato cakes to a new level, try these Aloo Tikki below.
And who doesn’t love a smooth and silky potato soup? The children will love it too and it can be dressed up for a dinner party with a slick of scallion oil or watercress pesto.
Finally we need to talk about variety, there are ‘potatoes and potatoes’ but it is good to realise that if you are interested in flavour, the variety really matters; seek out traditional and old varieties, Golden Wonder, Kerrs Pink, Pink Fir Apple, Charlotte, Alouette, Carolus, Setanta — so much nourishment and flavour for just a few euros.
Fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden.
Mash the boiled peas and potatoes with the other ingredients. Add the chilli, ginger, coriander and spices. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper Shape into small balls with the dough, roll it in some seasoned flour and line them in a tray. Keep this in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
Just before serving, heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and shallow fry them until golden.
Delicious served with a mint and coriander chutney or tomato chutney
Most people would have potatoes and onions in the house even if the cupboard was otherwise bare so one could make this simply delicious soup at a moment’s notice. While the vegetables are sweating, pop a few white soda scones or Cheddar cheese scones into the oven and wow, won’t they be impressed.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover with a paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes approx.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil, when the vegetables are soft but not coloured add stock and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.
Serve sprinkled with a few freshly-chopped herbs and herb flowers if available.
In Ulster people are passionate about fadge or potato bread. It can be cooked on a griddle, in a frying pan or in the oven.
Cook the potatoes in their jackets, pull off the skin and mash right away. Add the flour and butter.
Season with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper, adding a few drops of creamy milk if the mixture is altogether too stiff. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Shape into a 2.5 cm (¾ inch) thick round and then cut into quarters or eights. Dip in seasoned flour. Bake on a griddle over an open fire or fry in bacon fat or melted butter on a gentle heat.
Cook the fadge until crusty and golden on one side, then flip over and cook on the other side (4-5 minutes approx each side). Serve with an Ulster fry or just on its own on hot plates with a blob of butter melting on top.
At Tartare in Galway, JP McMahon’s chefs serve this as a ‘standalone’ potato dish on the dinner menu. It’s high time potatoes took a starring role. We loved it.
Cook the well-scrubbed potatoes in well salted boiling water until tender, 10 – 15 mins. Strain and reserve 100mls of the water.
Slice the potatoes lengthwise or widthways depending on size. Return the water to the pot, add dillisk and butter. When the butter melts, blend to create an emulsion. Add the warm potatoes to the pot and glaze with the dillisk butter emulsion.
Season to taste with seaweed vinegar ad salt. Ladle into hot bowls and serve immediately with sea herbs or fresh mint.
Scrub, peel and slice the potatoes into a 4mm thick rounds. Place one layer of potatoes into a casserole dish. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Keep layering the potato slices until they are all used up, this amount should give you approx. five layers of sliced potatoes with each layer well-seasoned.
Cover potatoes with 1.5 litres of homemade stock and cover with a buttered cartouche (baking parchment cut to size and buttered on one side). Place in the oven at 260C for 30 minutes until almost tender.
Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and transfer to a well buttered casserole dish whilst layering them up. Add the double cream to the stock remaining which the potatoes were cooked in, stir to mix and pour over the potatoes.
Top with lots of butter.
Return to the oven at 260°C until the top layers are nicely browned and bubbling (20 – 30mins). Serve immediately.
Sligo goes vegan
Sligo vegan tours, launched on September 28, is a three-and-a-half hour walking tour taking in eight or nine venues around the town.
It is being led by Gaby and Hans Wieland, and the ticket price is €60, including food and drink from the restaurants visited. To book contact www.sligofoodtours.ie
Upcoming new course Kids Pizza Making Workshop and Farm Walk: An exciting new course aimed at ages six to 12 will include a walk around the Ballymaloe Cookery School organic farm to visit the animals and pick some ingredients before returning to the kitchen for a hands-on pizza making workshop.
Saturday, October 26, from 9.30am to 1pm. For more details call 021-4646785 or go check out www.cookingisfun.ie