When one thinks of Harvest festivals one thinks of potatoes. This fantastic vegetable that comes in so many varieties and can be cooked in so many ways.
I have often wondered whether Jane Grigson, when she wrote her best-selling Vegetable Book, found there were just some vegetables she could simply not be bothered with. On the off chance you have not yet discovered this wondrous book each vegetable is tackled alphabetically, a chapter on each, which includes a brief summary and several recipes. Did she get to Jerusalem Artichokes, for example, and dissolve into dismay and procrastination at the thought of having to write something engaging about something she found duller than a dull day in dull-land?
The one vegetable I can't believe she felt anything but passion for is the universally loved potato. Brought to these shores by Sir Francis Drake in the sixteenth century and cherished for its robustness and versatility ever since. So imagine my utter horror when the following occurred on Sunday:
Me: How many roast potatoes would you like?
Grown adult man: None for me thanks.
Grown adult man: Off carbs.
Grown adult man: No carbs for me. (Slurps wine. Loudly. Before patting tummy with both hands)
Grown adult man: Need to shed some pounds
Me: Oh I see. (Emits toxic atmosphere for rest of lunch).
Of course, what I wanted to say was listen you damn fool if you want to shed some pounds then start doing some exercise. Omitting potatoes is not the answer. Not simply because the NHS advise that starchy foods such as potatoes should make up a third of what we eat. Not because the French – who, according to recent best-selling books are superior to us in weight-loss and child rearing - scoff pureed potato on a daily basis and are still stick thin. Not because potatoes became the first food that had ever been grown in space on-board the shuttle Columbia. Not even because there are over 450 types of the tuber grown in this country. Nor because there are 3,000 potato growers in Great Britain, all passionate about providing a quality product that ends up on your plate. But, to quote Grigson, because ‘this country has produced many fine varieties of potato, all suited to different methods of cooking. We have the climate and skill for raising potatoes. We like potatoes.’
This is how it works… if you have had an active day and your breakfast and lunch have been small then you should be able to savour a sensible portion of mashed potato or dauphinoise potato or roast potato or potato gratin. If your day has been relatively static, then enjoy a couple of new potatoes to compliment your broad beans and grilled British pork chop.
Exploring the vast array of varieties of potatoes is a fun activity. Potatoes are fun. Robust and ready for action. There is so much you can do with them from using them as a thickener in a soup, to chopping them into chips, to boiling them for stews or mashing them for pies. To eating them baked as a stand-alone supper. There is no tampering or processing involved with these dudes. Potatoes feed, fill and give energy.
There was a statue erected in Germany of Sir Francis Drake [sadly torn down by Nazis in the War] to honour him for introducing the potato to Europe. Last week, in Ulster, a plaque was unveiled commemorating the breeder of the Maris Piper potato. This vegetable is a hero. Bred by heroes.
So enough of this no-carb nonsense. Focus that abstinence on some re-constituted, highly processed white bread and meanwhile devour and savour British potatoes safe in the knowledge of the goodness they give you.
For the Many Faces of Potatoes website [click here].
If you love mash but don't have the time order some ready cooked from [Mash Direct].
For more information on potatoes [click here].
The Sauce lives below the line for Unicef and cooks a British meal for under £1.00
Baked potato with cheese and spinach
- What ingredients did you use and how readily available were they?
1 large saxon potato from local Farm Shop - £0.39
20g Tesco mature British cheddar - £0.10
20g Tesco fresh spinach - £0.10
- How many people did it actually feed?
Just little old me.
- How long did it take and how easy was it?
I really wanted to take this mission seriously. So, I decided to bake the potato in burning embers on a barbecue. I pierced it several times and then wrapped it in foil. I left it for 1.5 hours. I then opened the potato up, scooped out the flesh and mixed it with the raw spinach leaves and the cheese. I then put the mixture back into the skins, wrapped the potato up in the foil again and put it back in the embers for 10 minutes. It did take a long time to cook but at least I could do other things whilst the potato was baking.
- What did you think of the dish?
Although I was tempted to scoff, I actually ate it really slowly. I thought I would miss butter and was concerned about the quantity of cheese but in actual fact as it had melted through the potato, both worries were unfounded. The skin wasn't as crispy as they usually are when I cook potatoes in an oven but that could be because I was impatient. I could have easily left it cooking for another thirty minutes. As always, it is all about the ingredients. The Saxon variety of potatoes has a really creamy flesh which gave a sweetness and slightly indulgent texture. The mature cheddar supplied the salt and the spinach helped with flavour too.
- Would you cook it again?
Yes, but perhaps not on an open fire - unless I was camping. I think I would also add British bacon next time.
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If you would like more information on Unicef's Living Below The Line 29 April – 3 May [click here].