Autumn always offers the chef an abundance of locally grown produce

From a cook’s point of view autumn is my favourite time of year.
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There’s an abundance of locally grown produce at the moment and not least potatoes.

The farm shop closest to me, Galbraith’s in Coleraine have a great selection grown in the surrounding fields. When you buy potatoes in supermarkets they’re washed and sometimes, annoyingly, recoated in dry peat. Why go to the bother? They come out of the ground naturally caked in soil they were grown in, so why go to the trouble and expense of washing them to make them dirty again? The soil acts as a protector and natural preservative for the potatoes.

When you buy potatoes directly from their source you can be guaranteed quality and value for money – very important these days. Practically every road in Ireland has a sign saying Potatoes for Sale. Potatoes are very much of a place – a Kerr’s pink from Fermanagh, an Aghadowey Home Guard, a county Down Sharpe’s Express will all have different flavour profiles because of the soil and climate they were grown in. The thing they have in common is an infinite superiority to those standardised, scrubbed supermarket varieties. You’ll also be able to buy potatoes like Aran Victories, Navan, Golden Wonder and Sungold that you would never see for sale in a big conglomerate. Don’t be put off by the muck – give them a scrub and you’re good to go.

Leeks are another crop that are magnificent at the moment. Roy and Sheila Lyttle grow leeks outside Newtownards, in fields hugged by a protective Strangford Lough. These leeks are verdant and flavoursome but with a delicacy in contrast to robust leeks grown on the north coast that have been kissed by salty Atlantic air. Like potatoes, each tells a story of the landscape. Both are delightful in their own way. The first recipe combines these two in a leek and potato pie. The pastry contains mashed potato to encase a filling with the star ingredients combined with a creamy mustardy cheese sauce. Serve on its own with a salad or as a side to roast or grills.

The other recipe this week is for a Greek inspired souvlaki – a grilled kebab. Chicken thighs are good value and have much more flavour than breast meat. Here they’re marinated and threaded onto kebab sticks before grilling. They’re served with a potato flatbread and served with a kebab shop sauce, a yoghurt based condiment with garlic, chilli and ketchup. Make yourself some homemade chips and you’ll have all the taste of the chippy at a quarter of the price.