A little taster of what's cooking...
Where would we be without potatoes? We love them – mashed, roasted, jacketed, dauphinoise, chipped, boiled, steamed, crisped – the list is endless. My personal favourites are Bombay Potatoes and Patatas Bravas, which is why I’ve chosen those recipes for this blog post. Patatas Bravas – crispy potatoes, covered with spicy tomato sauce is one of the best things to serve with cold beer. Potatoes are amazing when they’re slowly simmered – the recipe for Slow Cooked Bombay Potatoes uses a slow cooker and can be left for a couple of hours to carry on soaking up the lovely sauce while you get on with other things.
Some people think Sir Walter Raleigh first brought the potato back to show Queen Elizabeth I, from Spain (stopping off at his home in Ireland first, to plant a couple). The story goes that Raleigh presented the potato to the Queen and although dubious, she put her cooks to work immediately so that she could taste this new, exotic vegetable. The cooks didn’t know what to do with it, so threw the potatoes away and beautifully steamed the highly poisonous stems and leaves. This made the whole of court ill. Potatoes therefore weren’t a massive hit and it took a good while for them to gain any kind of respect.
The truth is probably that the potato was brought over to England and/or Ireland by the visiting trading Spanish, but I don’t like to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Potatoes originated in Mexico and were cultivated by the Aztecs. There were many different colours of potato and some reports of a variety that grew under the water. When the Spanish invaded the Aztec empire, they liked some varieties of potato and not others. They obviously only cultivated the varieties they liked and the rest became extinct, it looks as though we’ll never get to taste the underwater potatoes…
Maybe because of the stems and leaves being so poisonous, people weren’t quick to accept the potato into their lives and for many years they were only considered good enough to feed to animals. Wheat bread was the national staple, but where wheat was difficult to grow and oats were the staple (Scotland, Ireland), people were more eager to eat potatoes than rough oat bread. The rest of Britain soon followed and I for one, am very happy that they did!
Here are two of my favourite potato recipes – Patatas Bravas and slow cooked Bombay Potatoes
Patatas Bravas – Serves 4-6
This is a famous tapas dish – crisp crunchy potatoes topped with as hot as you like smoky tomato sauce. I prefer to roast my potatoes instead of the traditional frying but you can fry them if you prefer. Serve with cold beer or as part of a tapas meal.
Parboil around 500g of potatoes (I’d use Maris Piper) until nearly cooked. Strain and leave the heat underneath to dry them off for a minute. Put the lid on the pan and shake gently to roughen the outside of the potatoes. Roast in olive oil until golden and crisp.
Finely chop 1 onion and fry in olive oil along with 1 clove of garlic, until the onion is soft and golden brown (don’t let it burn). Finely chop 1 red chilli and add as much of it as you like to the onions, cook for another couple of minutes. Add 1 can of chopped tomatoes or plum tomatoes OR 400g passatta, along with 1tsp sugar and salt to taste (I used a big 1/2 tsp). Add 1 tsp of smoked paprika and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Simmer for 10-20 minutes until the flavours have come together.
Remove the roast potatoes and put into a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle them with salt and top with the tomato sauce.
Slow Cooked Bombay Potatoes Serves 4-6
This classic Indian accompaniment goes well with anything – even your Sunday lunch roast! If you haven’t got a slow cooker, cook the potatoes in a pan with a well fitting lid on the lowest heat possible (I stand my saucepan on a dry frying pan over the heat to make the heat even more gentle) and just check from time to time that nothing is sticking.
Peel 3 large or 5 medium/small potatoes and cut them into thick chunks. Use waxy red potatoes or large new ones.
Either peel and grate or using a stick blender blend 3 cloves of peeled and chopped garlic and a small piece (about 1cm) of peeled and chopped fresh ginger with a splash of water.
You’ll need 5-6tblsp of either pastatta OR blended tomatoes from a can OR 1tblsp tomato puree and 5 tbslp water mixed together.
In a small dish collect 1/2 tsp turmeric, 2tsp coriander, 1tsp cumin, 1tsp garam masala and chilli powder to taste (1/2-1tsp). If you don’t have all of these spices, you can leave whichever you haven’t got, out.
Heat some oil in a large pan and add 1tsp cumin and/or mustard seeds. Finely chop 1 onion and add to the seeds in the hot oil. Stir and cook over a low heat with the lid on for around 10 minutes to soften the onions. Turn the heat up to medium and take the lid off. Continue cooking until the onions are golden brown.
Add the prepared garlic/ginger mixture and stir for a few more minutes until the raw smell has gone. Add the ground spices and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 heaped tsp salt (or to taste). Stir and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring often for around 10 minutes or until the mixture starts to look glossy.
Add the raw potato cubes and stir thoroughly. Taste the sauce and add more salt if necessary – potatoes take more salt than you think!
Transfer to a slow cooker if using and cook for 2 hours on medium or until the potatoes are soft. If cooking on the hob, cover with a lid and use the lowest heat
Taste and add salt if necessary. I bet there won’t be any leftovers!