TODAY is National Potato Day. I love potatoes, but not just any potatoes. The red-skinned Rooster is supposedly Ireland’s favourite potato, but not mine.
Give me Home Guard or British Queens any day. Later in the season I also seek out Sharps Express and Skerry Champions.
For those who like a waxy potato, fingerlings like Ratte and Pink Fir Apple make delicious potato salads. For flavour and texture, main crop Golden Wonders and Kerr’s Pinks are hard to beat.
I know they are trickier that the red skinned variety to cook, but I still love the floury Irish potatoes that burst out of their jackets just before they are fully cooked.
The Ballycotton area has long been famous for its potatoes, but there are just three commercial growers left now — John Kennifick from Maytown, Michael Ivers from Ballyandreen and Willie Scannell from Ballytrasna. Willie sells his Home Guard, British Queens, Kerrs Pinks and the main crop Golden Wonders at Midleton Farmer Market. Get there early, you’ll be lucky if they are not sold out by 11:30am.
It’s hard to beat a really good potato for nourishment and sheer value for money. They are packed with nutrients — vitamin C (twice as much as an orange), vitamin B, potassium, iron and twice the fibre of brown rice. Yet consumption of potatoes in Ireland is down by 50pc.
Even a total novice in the kitchen can cook potatoes in a variety of simple ways. Three star chefs can have fun incorporating potatoes into their award-winning menus. They take on other flavours brilliantly; spices and fresh herbs and ethnic ingredients add extra magic.
As organic farmers we grow a small quantity of 8 to 10 blight resistant potato varieties every year, fertilised with seaweed gathered from Shanagarry Strand after a storm.
Not all blight resistant varieties are delicious; some like Sarpo Mira tend to be a bit wet and soapy in some soils. This year has been horrendously difficult for potato farmers, with the combination of rain and ideal conditions for blight.
Interestingly, the funding for the Sarvari Institute in Wales, which has been conducting research into blight-resistant potatoes, has recently been withdrawn.
The recent decision by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to grant permission to Teagasc to do trials of GM (Genetically Modified) potatoes in the open has been welcomed by many in the farming industry and caused concern among others who have reservations about the genetic modification of food and the impact on Ireland’s image of a clean green island.
Thus far Ireland is a GM-free island, but as one pragmatist remarked to me ‘you can only lose your virginity once’.
Should the trials be successful, will the public flock to buy GM potatoes? How will this affect our food export?
Earlier this year, in response to the deep unease and sense of helplessness ordinary citizens feel around this topic, Kaethe Burt O’Dea and a number of others started a project called SPUDS (Sustainable Potatoes United Development Study) that distributed blight resistant seeds to approximately 300 growers — large and small — across the country.
Over the next five months they will record their progress in growing and tending to these potatoes and at harvest time they will document the yield and taste of their crop. This community-based research will be analysed and then published in early 2013 around the country.
Hot Potato Cakes with Crème Fráiche and Smoked Salmon
In season- year round
900g (2 lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes eg.
Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
30g – 55g (1-2 oz) (30-55g) butter
55g (2 oz) flour
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, chives and lemon thyme, mixed (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bacon fat, clarified butter or olive oil for frying
8 generous slices of smoked salmon or smoked trout
Cook the potatoes in their jackets, pull off the peel and mash right away, add the flour and herbs.
Season with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper, adding a few drops of creamy milk if the mixture is altogether too stiff. Mix well. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Shape into potato cakes 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and then cut into rounds. Dip in seasoned flour.
Fry the potato cakes in clarified butter until golden on one side, then flip over and cook on the other side, 4-5 minutes approx. They should be crusty and golden. Serve on very hot plates.
Put a blob of creme fraiche on top of each potato cake. Top with slivers of smoked salmon and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.
Potato and Sweetcorn Chowder
A satisfying and filling soup made in a short time. This could be a supper dish if eaten with a few scones and followed by a salad. In season: all year.
2-3 medium potatoes, parboiled for 10 minutes, drained, peeled and finely chopped
450g (1 lb) sweetcorn kernels
30g (1 oz) butter
170g (6 oz) approx. onion, finely chopped
300ml (10 fl oz) home-made chicken stock
300ml (10 fl oz) milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
250ml (8 fl oz) light cream or creamy milk
Roasted red pepper dice or crispy bacon dice Sprigs of flat parsley
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onion and potato and sweat until soft but not coloured. Gradually add in the stock and milk, stirring all the time, and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, add the corn, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and cook gently for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked. Add the cream and heat through gently without boiling.
Serve in hot bowls with a little dice of roasted red pepper or crispy bacon and parsley on top.
Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it out with a little chicken or vegetable stock.
Spicy Aubergine Stew with Potatoes, Mushrooms and Chickpeas
(Taken From Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian)
Serves 4 — 6
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
a large pinch of ground asafoetida
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
3 dried red chillies
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
340g (12ozs) potatoes, peeled and cut into
2.5 — 4cm (1 — 1½ in) chunks
340g (12 oz) long, slim aubergines (Japanese or Italian), cut across into 2.5-4cm (1 — 1½) chunks
340g (12 oz) large white mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters to match size of other vegetable pieces
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
250ml (8 fl oz) tomata passata
2¼ teaspoons salt
85g (3oz) fresh coriander, very finely chopped (leaves, stems and roots)
400g (14 oz) drained cooked chickpeas (see below)
How to cook dried chickpeas:
For 250g (9oz) dried chickpeas, use 1.5 litres (2½ pints) water. Put the soaked chickpeas and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low, cover and cook gently for 1-3 hours, or until the chickpeas are very tender. Salt, about 1½ teaspoons, may be added in the last half hour of cooking unless the recipe tells you to put it in later.
Put the oil into a large, wide pan and set over high heat. When hot, put in the asafetida and cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 10 seconds. Put in the whole red chillies. As soon as they swell and darken — a matter of seconds — put in the garlic and potatoes. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Put in the aubergine chunks, and stir and fry for 2 minutes. Put in the mushrooms, and stir and fry for another 2 minutes. Now add the turmeric and ground coriander. Stir once, then pour in the tomato passata and 1 litre (1¾ pints) water. Add the salt, fresh coriander and chickpeas. Bring to the boil. Cover, turn the heat to low and cook gently for 35 — 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Serve hot.
¦ The Great British Cheese Festival 2012 takes place from Friday to Sunday, Sept 23, at Cardiff Castle. There promises to be a fantastic atmosphere with a huge selection of cheese, including Irish Farmhouse Cheese to try, taste and buy. For masterclasses, demos and live music see www.greatbritishcheesefestival.co.uk
¦ Several exciting new stalls have popped up at the Midleton Farmers Market on Saturdays:
¦ Local fisherman, Michael Barrett has fresh lobsters and crabs in season nestled on a bed of seaweed: Tel 087-6000438
¦ Siobhan, daughter of Jane Murphy who makes Ardsallagh Goat Cheese, has started her own cheesy business under the name of Carrig Foods — Timo’s Irish cheddar in block and grated, Aged Parmesan pieces and grated and a cute little collection of Irish Farmhouse cheeses, perfect for a picnic. Tel: 021-4882338.
¦ Don’t miss Lucy Deegan’s Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms, Shitake Bacon, crispy and totally delicious as a nibble or over salads. There’s also porcini dust, porcini oil, wild mushroom ketchup and seriously mushroomy mushroom soup. It’s a great little business offering lots of temptations both at Midleton and Mahon Point Farmers Markets. Tel: 086-8100808
¦ And finally tempting Tipperary Organic Ice Cream in many flavours, great with Rose Cottage Berries.
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