Friday, 2 October 2009

In Praise of Potatoes

The American author of 'Little Women', Louisa May Alcott said, "Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes".

I’m not sure why I am thinking so much about potatoes these days. Perhaps it is the cooler weather and the nights drawing in. They are the epitome of comfort food. It is funny we see them that way because back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they were rather looked down on. A British journalist of the time, William Cobbett, wrote, "As food for cattle, sheep or hogs, this is the worst of all the green and root crops; but of this I have said enough before; and therefore, I now dismiss the Potato with the hope, that I shall never again have to write the word, or see the thing." In 1783 French author Legrande d'Aussy wrote “The pasty taste, the natural insipidity, the unhealthy quality of (the potato), which is flatulent and indigestible, has caused it to be rejected from refined households and returned to the people, whose coarse palates and stronger stomachs are satisfied with anything capable of appeasing hunger." Ouch. Poor potatoes. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been much kinder to them. Everyone seems to love them. I mean, imagine a world without potatoes. No chips or French fries, no fluffy baked potato interiors to smother in butter or sour cream and dive into with your fork, no comforting plate of mashed potatoes on a cold day...It just doesn't bear thinking about.

I’m not that big a fan of cooking potatoes actually. I really hate peeling them, which is lazy I know, but it’s the truth. Having said that I do love how they taste, and my family love them too, especially the mashed variety, their absolute favourite. In addition to copious quantities of these, I like cooking small new potatoes as – oh joy! - these do not require peeling. Baked potatoes are good for this reason as well actually.

One thing I do love about potatoes is the many wonderful things you can do with the leftovers. In fact, just like with roasts of beef, I often cook more of them than I need just to ensure I have some.

Leftover new potatoes can become a wonderful salad, or be re-warmed and mashed with a fork, some melted butter and a bit of salt and pepper for a delicious variation on mashed potatoes. My latest craze is roasting new potatoes in the oven. It could not be easier. Simply pop heat some olive oil on a roasting pan in the oven. Put some washed and dried new potatoes on it, carefully rolling them in the hot oil with a spoon or fish slice. Roast for about 40 minutes, turning once. I have served these with roast beef to rave reviews. If I have any leftovers, I use them to make this delicious twist on traditional potato salad.

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Roast Potato Salad

Small bowl of leftover roast small new potatoes, cooled and cut in half
3 or 4 tablespoons of your favourite mayonnaise (I like Hellmann’s Extra Light)
4 or 5 chopped spring onions (scallions)
1 red pepper, very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Put the potatoes in a medium bowl and add the spring onions, red pepper and oregano. Starting with about 3 tablespoons, stir in the mayonnaise. You want the potatoes to be dressed nicely, but not too heavily. Add a bit more if needed, but go carefully. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for two or three hours before using so the flavours can blend together. Stir before serving and enjoy.

Now, if you have any baked potatoes left over that have not been cut into, let them cool and then slice them in thin slices. Shallow fry them in hot oil (turning only once if possible) until golden brown. Serve these gorgeous crunchy mouthfuls sprinkled with salt and pepper alongside just about anything.

As for leftover mashed potatoes, of course they can be reheated, but one of my favourite things to do with them is to make potato pancakes. These are wonderful for brunch, served alongside crispy bacon and fried eggs, as a side dish with fish or even as a snack on their own.

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Easy Potato Pancakes
To make 5 to 6 pancakes you need:-

About 1 to 1 ½ cups leftover mashed potatoes, cooled
1 egg
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion flakes
1 teaspoon dried or fresh parsley
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

Beat the egg and add the dehydrated onion, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour over the potatoes and stir with a fork to mix. Set aside and allow to rest for about ten minutes.

Shape the mixture into small pancakes, about two to three inches in diameter. Place on a plate. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan until it is very hot.

Fry the pancakes for about two minutes on each side. Try to only turn them once as they can be delicate.

As tempting as it is, don’t eat these straight out of the frying pan. Allow to cool just a bit before serving so as not to burn your mouth!

Using up leftovers is so important these days and with potatoes, it couldn't be easier. Try out some of these ideas and you will find that being economical and environmentally friendly was never more delicious!