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 lingering 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. When the leaves faded and died back it was time to harvest. It was lovely to see the children’s 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.
Even if you don't care to grow your own, be careful to read the country of origin on your potato because for most weeks of the year we should be buying Irish and eating our way out of recession one spud at a time.
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 and 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, sautéed, 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. Hasselbacks are the best known of the Swedish potato recipes. The original uses butter and breadcrumbs, sometimes parmesan. Bay leaves are a favourite Scandinavian herb. The potatoes are sliced 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 200°C
To prepare the potatoes, scrub and cut. The easiest way I have found is to place two 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. Any way 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 colour a little, then transfer to the oven and roast for about 30 minutes, 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 number of potato ideas for you to drool over. See www.thedailyspud.com/category/recipes/potato-recipes/