Is there anything as comforting as a baked potato, split and anointed with a dollop of butter?
The crisp, golden skin encasing fluffy clouds of white loveliness. The American food writer MFK Fisher sums it up well: “For me, a plain baked potato is the most delicious one.... it is soothing and enough.”
Despite the fact that potatoes are engrained in our souls in Northern Ireland, our consumption of them is predicted to plummet by 40 percent in the next decade.
We’ve ditched our national vegetable in favour of rice and pasta. The feeling among many young consumers especially is that potatoes are fattening and a hassle to cook. In reality they are low fat with a high vitamin c and potassium content. Also you know exactly where you are with a spud – whether you want one, two or three.
With pasta and rice you’re more inclined to cook too much. A lot of people will say it’s a big deal to scrub a dirty potato and they don’t really have the time. You can clean a pot of potatoes in about five minutes and they cook in 25. That’s the same length of time of one episode of a soap opera. The potato will nourish your body, give you a bit of exercise from the scrubbing and make you feel you’ve accomplished something. The soap opera on the other hand.....
The Mighty Spud is a campaign by the Northern Ireland Stakeholder Potato Promotion Group (NISPPG) a co-operative of potato farmers, packers and processors dedicated to highlighting the healthiness, versatility and value of potatoes.
They are supported by the Department of Agriculture’s NI Regional Food Programme. This year they are running the Mighty Spud Awards.
There are four categories – Mightiest Chip, Mightiest Mash, Mightiest Potato Innovation and Mightiest Healthy Potato dish.
Food outlets and their customers have until noon on Monday 15th February to nominate a potato creation that they think merits one of the awards.
It could be mash from a smart restaurant, chips from a van, a healthy potato dish from a work’s canteen or an innovative dish from a pub. Go to www.mightyspud/awards to nominate.
Last week at the banquet to launch the NI Year of Food and Drink 2016, in the Ulster Hall, Simon Dougan from Yellow Door Catering cooked a delicious main course of Baronscourt venison accompanied by a smoked fondant of Comber potatoes. Buttery, soft local potatoes with a hint of smoke – genius! Fondant potatoes, literally meaning melting, are one of those classic dishes that don’t go out of fashion. Potatoes are shaped and then cooked slowly in stock and butter – the liquid evaporates leaving them perfectly seasoned and golden.
My first recipe this week is for fondants with cider instead of stock. They’re lovely with roast chicken or grilled gammon.
The second recipe is for the great Italian dish, gnocchi. Baked potato flesh is combined with Italian pasta flour, called double zero, or strong bread flour, with an egg to form a soft dough. The dough is rolled out and then cut into small bite sized dumplings that are rolled down the back of a special gnocchi roller or fork to indent. This way they take up as much of the sauce as possible. Combined with a bacon and cheesy cream sauce and topped with crispy parsley and garlic crumbs, it’s not a dish for the faint of heart but it will warm the cockles!