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Perfect potatoes are the food of the season

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Food columnist Deborah Ratcliffe believes spuds are essential for winter. Here she waxes lyrical about her favourite tatties and provides some recipes so we can appreciate them at home.

Continuing on from January’s theme, my go-to food – whatever the season – has to include potatoes.

They’re the perfect heart-warming winter food. A plate with butter-enriched mashed potato, crispy hash browns or luscious crunchy roasts are perfect to lift the spirits during those long dark days when the deep chill penetrates even deeper into the bones!

The humble potato is, in my humble opinion, essential to my wellbeing. Waxing a bit lyrical here I know, but I think you get the idea – I love tatties!

Most parts of the country have some form of potato cake as a staple in their diet. The first recipe today, my take on pub grub potato cakes, has been a favourite for ages and hails from the time we lived in Ireland, just north of Dublin.

The local pub served these “cakes” topped with buttery leeks and softly poached eggs. The leeks were cut into small circles and simply cooked in butter with ample seasoning. The potato base was crispy outside yet soft in the centre.

Cut the cake open and it was the perfect consistency to absorb the butter from the leeks and the runny egg yolk. I never did get the exact recipe from the chef but, after a few attempts, found a good balance of ingredients.

Traditional potato cake recipes are great, but the fun is to use the basic recipe and then let your imagination run riot – mix and match seasonings and fillings.

Some of my favourite extras are finely-chopped spring onions, or even finer chopped red onion with a handful of freshly-chopped herbs – a simple but tasty concoction.

Grated cheese with chopped black olives and sundried tomato are a good combination, with a few capers to cut through the richness.

Flaked almonds with diced baby gherkins or walnuts with feta are tasty, whilst anchovies with tinned tuna make a really substantial meal. The starter base is often a potato and flour mix to make the cake more substantial.

The broad bean and potato recipe below makes “cakes” which are pretty solid in their own right and don’t need the help of flour to pad them out.

Both recipes today can also be baked in the oven instead of frying. Just drizzle over some olive oil, and depending on size, roughly 25-30 minutes should be OK in a medium-hot oven, turning once.


Deborah’s pub grub potato cake

(Makes 4-6) 

Ingredients

  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 300g well-seasoned cooked potatoes mashed down with 25g butter
  • 1 tbsp milk (if required)
  • Buttered leeks and poached eggs (to serve)

Method

  1. In a mixing bowl rub 25g butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. With your hands, thoroughly mix the “breadcrumbs” into the cooled mashed potato. Lightly flour a chopping board.
  3. Place the mixture on the board and divide into 4-6 evenly-sized rounds.
  4. Chill till ready to cook as this makes the cakes easier to handle.
  5. Melt the remaining butter in a large frying pan and add the cakes .
  6. Make sure the pan isn’t too hot or the butter will burn.
  7. Cook slowly until browned on both sides.
  8. Serve with buttered leeks and a poached egg on top of each cake.
  9. Tips: The mashed potato needs to be firm and definitely not soft or the cakes will fall apart.
  10. If you add too much flour to the mixture I find it doesn’t cook through and leaves a “floury” taste in the mouth. So, cook slowly in the butter to stop the butter burning, and allow the flour to cook.
  11. I didn’t peel the potatoes and used leftover mash from the night before.

Broad bean herby potato rounds

(Makes 4) 

Ingredients

  • 150g cooked broad beans
  • 350g cold, mashed, well-seasoned potato
  • 2 tbsp each freshly-chopped coriander and mint
  • 1 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Blend the beans until they form a coarse paste.
  2. Place the mashed potato, coriander, mint and melted butter in a large bowl. Add the bean paste and mix thoroughly.
  3. Check for taste and add salt and pepper.
  4. On a floured board divide the mix into 4 and shape each into a circle. Chill for at least a hour.
  5. Heat the oil in a frying pan. When hot, fry the cakes gently for roughly 3-4 minutes per side or until crispy and golden-brown.
  6. As the mix has been cooled, ensure the rounds are thoroughly heated through before serving.
  7. Tips: If you want a smooth inside to the rounds, remove the skin on each bean and peel the potatoes. Mine were rustic with skins left on the potato and beans. I used frozen beans today and the result was excellent. Coriander adds a lively flavour but, if preferred, swap this for freshly-chopped parsley.

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