Darina Allen: Potatoes with Smetana and Dill

I’M ABSOLUTELY thrilled to read about big plans to give the humble spud a makeover, a €1m boost to be precise. 

This is big — a collaboration between Bord Bia, the Department of Agriculture, Ireland’s potato industry, the British Potato Council and the EU.

Everyone concerned has become increasingly dismayed by the 25% drop in potato consumption in the past decade. 

Sales to the under 45s account for an even more dramatic drop of 33%. 

Even though the potato is inextricably linked with Irish food culture our national love affair with the spud has been waning for quite some time.

Many young people have ditched the ‘unsexy’ potato in favour of ‘cooler’ carbs like rice and pasta but prepare to be dazzled — the humble spud is about to get a full-on makeover. 

The campaign sprang into action yesterday — National Potato Day — with a ‘cheeky’ potato character and a saucy line ‘Potatoes — more than a bit on the side’.

The quality of much of the Irish potato crop dipped dramatically in the 1980s as Irish potato growers boosted crops with nitrogen in a frantic attempt to compete with the cheap imports from Cyprus where the climate lends itself to higher-yielding varieties. 

The result was a larger, watery, potato with poor keeping quality. 

Spud lovers felt cheated and bewildered. Was it any wonder that many hitherto devotees turned to the more reliable and, for many, more convenient fast food? 

The reality is that if we want beautiful Irish floury potatoes as we remember them, we need to pay more because the varieties are naturally low yielding.

Potatoes were also damned as fattening, a complete and utter myth which needs to be dispelled.

Instead we need to ramp up the message that potatoes are a fab ‘superfood’, the only one that can sustain life, remarkable for both its adaptability and its nutritional value. 

As well as providing starch, an essential component of the diet, potatoes are rich in vitamin C, high in potassium and an excellent source of fibre. 

In fact, potatoes alone supply every vital nutrient except calcium, vitamin A and D. The easily-grown plant has the ability to provide more nutritious food faster on less land than any other food crop, and in almost any environment. 

They are so easy to grow yourself — you don’t need a farm or a garden, we’ve had fun showing school kids how to plant potatoes in old hessian sacks and willow baskets and even galvanised dustbins. 

I’m not so keen on the rubber tyre tower, somehow I’m suspicious that some of the toxins could leach into the soil, hopefully I’m wrong.

Digging a stalk of potatoes is pure magic for anyone from the minister of agriculture to my 12-year-old grandson, all those beautiful earthy jewels where originally you planted just one potato. 

And from the cook’s point of view, potatoes are phenomenally versatile — they can be boiled, steamed, roast, fried, grilled, and deep fried. They take on a myriad of flavours and herbs, spices, chilli, but and it’s a big but, you really have to source carefully. 

As ever, I seek out traditional varieties that are suited to Irish growing conditions, usually lower-yielding varieties like Homeguard, British Queens and Sharpe’s Express in summer and Golden Wonders, Kerrs Pinks and in Winter we also love the waxy Pink Fir apple. We choose blight resistant varieties because as organic farmers we don’t wish to spray. 

Potatoes with Smetana and Dill

Serves 6

We ate this simple potato salad in the courtyard restaurant of Hanul Cetatii, Saschiz, in Transylvania.

6-12 freshly cooked potatoes, depending on size

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Smetana (sour cream) (or crème fraîche)

Lots of chopped dill and dill sprigs

Peel and cut the freshly cooked potatoes into 1 inch pieces. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and chopped dill. Toss.

Serve on a platter, drizzle with smetana or crème fraîche and lots of dill sprigs over the top.

Claudia Roden’s Potatoes with Chorizo

Serves 2 as a main course

This is an earthy, strongly-flavoured dish that is served as a first or main course. 

By tradition the potatoes are cut only half way through with a wide knife then snapped open by twisting the blade. 

This is meant to release more starch so as to make the sauce thicker and to allow the potatoes to absorb more flavour. 

Small pork ribs, shallow-fried or roasted in the oven are sometimes added to make it a more meaty dish.

1 large onion, chopped

3–4 tbsp olive oil

200g (7oz) spicy chorizo (fully cured or semi-cured cooking type) cut into 1cm (½ inch) slices

2 garlic cloves, chopped

500g (18oz) new potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5–4cm (1–1½ inch) pieces

½–1 tsp sweet pimentón, or sweet paprika (optional)

Salt

Sauté the onion in the oil over a low heat in a wide frying pan, stirring often until it is really brown — almost caramelised — about 20 minutes. 

Add the chorizo and garlic and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes. Put in the potatoes and cook for five minutes, turning them over.

It is usual to add pimentón, but I do not add any when there is enough pimentón from the chorizo. Add salt and pour in enough water to cover. 

Simmer over low heat for about 25 – 35 minutes until the potatoes are soft and the liquid is very much reduced, turning the potatoes over if necessary so that they are well cooked right through. 

You should be left with a sizzling sauce that coats the potatoes and chorizo slices. If there is too much liquid, increase the heat towards the end to reduce it.

Variations

Chop ½ a green and ½ a red bell pepper and put them in when the onion is soft and continue to cook until lightly browned.

Add 1 peeled chopped tomato to the onions when they are brown.

Put in a whole dried or fresh chilli pepper.

Aloo Tikki (Potatoes and Pea Cutlet)

Aarudhra Giri from Tamil Nadu in India made these delicious pea and spicy potato cakes for us — they’re now a firm favourite.

4 potatoes, boiled and peeled

150g (5oz) green peas, boiled

1 onion, finely chopped

¾ green chilli

3 tsp ginger, grated very finely

1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

1 level tsp cumin powder

1 level tsp coriander powder

1 level tsp chilli powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Mint and Coriander Chutney

1 bunch of fresh mint

½ bunch of fresh coriander

1 red onion, chopped

1 green chilli, chopped

Juice of ½ lemon

A pinch of sugar

Salt to taste

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden.

Mash the boiled peas and potatoes with the other ingredients.

Form small balls with the dough, roll it in some flour and line them in a tray. Keep this in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

Just before serving, heat olive oil/sunflower oil in a frying pan and shallow fry them until golden.

Serve with mint and coriander chutney

For the Mint and Coriander Chutney

Blitz everything in a liquidiser until smooth. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Papas Bravas

Serves 10-12 as a tapa

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 red chilli, chopped (with seeds)

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp homemade tomato purée

2 teaspoons paprika

Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Extra virgin olive oil

900g (2lbs) potatoes (eg, golden wonder) peeled or unpeeled

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

Sea salt

To Serve

Aioli – homemade mayonnaise with crushed garlic and chopped parsley to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the chopped garlic and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and paprika. 

Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Simmer for 5-8 minutes or until slightly reduced.

Meanwhile, heat 1 inch (2½cm) olive oil in a frying pan. Dice the potatoes into 1 inch (2½ cm) pieces. 

Dry on kitchen paper. Cook the potatoes in the hot oil until light golden brown in colour and tender all the way through.

While the potatoes are cooking, liquidize the sauce and add the sherry vinegar. 

Return to the pan. When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper. Season lightly with some sea salt.

Heat the sauce, taste. Serve the potatoes on a plate, drizzle with the sauce and a good dollop of aioli.

Homemade Potato Crisps or Game Chips

Potato crisps can be nutritious as well as delicious. It’s definitely worthwhile to make them yourself — a few potatoes produce a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. 

A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips — but mind your fingers! When these are served with roast pheasant, they are called game chips.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes

Extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

Salt

Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. 

Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ºC/350ºF. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. 

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.

If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.

HOT TIPS

Check out the cool food truck parked outside the Ballymaloe Cookery School every Sunday from 11am to 6pm.

 Julia and Igor serve up simple and delicious Eastern European food — Shashlik, Chinahi, & Granny Pancakes.

Make your way to Dingle this weekend to catch the Dingle Food Festival — there are taste trails, cookery demos, workshops, wine tastings, food markets, a charity cook-off, and lots, lots more. www.dinglefood.com 

Autumn foraging on Sunday, October 4, at noon. Join Slow Food Galway for a mushroom hunt. 

The group will meet at the Petersburg Outdoors Education Centre in Clonbur. Booking is essential on 087 9312333.

Philip Dennhardt’s Saturday pizzas from the wood-burning oven at the Ballymaloe Cookery School have a cult following, want to know the secrets? 

Sign up for Philip’s three-hour, pizza masterclass on Friday, October 9. cookingisfun.ie

Jordan Bourke is another young Irish chef who’s really making waves in the UK. 

His new cookbook, Our Korean Kitchen, which he co-wrote with his wife Rejina Pyo, is creating quite a stir. 

He will teach a guest chef course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday, October 10. www.cookingisfun.ie 


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