The Humble Potato

Spring is in the air, and with it the tantalizing promise of fresh veggies. But not yet. First we have a couple months of what was historically a hungry season. Fortunately, we are not hungry; there is still plenty in our cellars, on our pantry shelves, and in the deep freeze to keep us going until the new growing season. But the variety is declining. Until recently, winter squash played a leading role on our dinner table. I love the rich flavour of winter squash in all its forms. Most of my family does not. So they are not sorry to see that our supply is diminishing and, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the humble potato is making its way into the spotlight.

Before moving to the farm, I did not tend to cook many potatoes. As a long-time vegetarian, I was well-versed in the importance of combining beans and grains; rice and pasta were staples, with other grains making frequent appearances. But now that we are trying even harder to grow what we eat and eat what we grow, potatoes are appearing on our table far more often. Shawn, with his Irish blood and deep love for the potato, is most pleased.

So how did I transition to fewer grains and more potatoes? First, I have learned (though not yet perfected!) Judy’s potato cooking technique. She boils potatoes (usually whole) in a very small amount of water – just enough so that when the potatoes are cooked, the pot is dry. During the learning stages, this can of course result in scorched potatoes, but trust me, it is well worth the practise!

Secondly, I have experimented with some of my old favourite recipes and learned that most are equally delicious served with potatoes rather than rice or pasta. Sometimes I will cube the potatoes to make this substitution; sometimes I will mash them. Give it a try, play around, and find what works for you.

And finally, I have sought out new potato recipes. I haven’t bothered with some of the more finicky potato recipes that are out there, but I have found a number of relatively simple and tasty new ways to enjoy these winter staples.

Here are a couple potato cakes (one savoury and one sweet) shared in a slightly late tribute to St. Patrick:

Crispy Potato Cake

1/4 cup butter (or more to taste, melted)

1 1/2 lbs. baking potatoes (I use the white Belgians)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 cup mixed finely chopped fresh herbs (or about 4 tsp dried)

Brush a 10” cast iron skilled with some butter. Peel and very thinly slice the potatoes. (I use the slicer on the side of a box grater.) Layer 1/3 of the potatoes in the skillet, drizzle with butter, sprinkly with 1/8 tsp each salt and pepper and 1/3 of the garlic and herbs. Repeat with half of the remaining potatoes and seasonings, then with what’s left. Cook on the stovetop over medium heat for 6 minutes (until the bottom is lightly golden) then cover and bake about 30 minutes at 350. Let rest 10 minutes, invert, and serve.

Cocoa Lentil Cake with Cocoa Mocha Frosting (from Vegetable Desserts by Elisabeth Schafer and Jeannette L Miller)

24 servings

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup oil

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 ¾ cups lentil puree *

1 cup mashed potatoes (fresh cooked, leftover or instant)

1 cup flour

6 Tbsp. cocoa powder

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray; set aside. Beat sugar, oil, and eggs for 2 minutes. Add vanilla, lentil puree, and potatoes. Mix. Add flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt and beat for 2 minutes. Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (I find it usually takes longer.) Cool, and frost with Cocoa Mocha Frosting.

* For the lentil puree, boil 2 ¼ cups (1 pound) lentils in 5 cups of water for 30-45 minutes. Puree while warm. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator up to one week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Cocoa Mocha Frosting

2 cups icing sugar

1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

3 Tbsp. soft margarine

1 Tbsp. dry instant coffee

2 Tbsp. skim milk

1 tsp. vanilla

Sift sugar and cocoa into a medium bowl. Add softened margarine and beat until smooth and creamy Add instant coffee and milk. Continue beating about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and beat well.

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