Sunday, 26 February 2012

Let there be spuds

In the 1800's, a blight virus struck the potato crops of Ireland and virtually wiped out the entire harvest. One million Irishmen perished in the famine which followed and a similar number were forced to leave their homeland and seek a living elsewhere. Such is the value of the humble spud. One of the simplest vegetables to cultivate, its nutritional benefits make the effort well worth it.
It is claimed that an adult can survive solely on potatoes with a little margarine or butter. This combination provides enough protein, iron, phosphorus, thiamin and niacin, as well as a good dose of vitamin C.
Potatoes also provide useful amounts of vitamins K and B6 as well as copper, magnesium, iodine and folacin. Not too bad for a vegetable that even kids seem to find edible.
And the news keeps getting better. When I was a diet-mad teenager, the cry was "Diet? No potatoes! No bread!" Fortunately we have now seen the error of our ways. The same medium potato which provides such valuable nutrition also contains a tiny 110 calories - and that in the form of valuable carbohydrate.
Potatoes planted in unused ground are an excellent soil-breaker; I remember, as a child, my father planting potatoes as preparation to planting a lawn in our newly-built home. It is a simple process - plant a seed potato under about 5cm of soil. Space each potato 30 to 40 cm apart. Weed and water them. When the tops die off, you just give them another fortnight (which extends the shelf life) and dig up your booty. Could anything be simpler?
More rewarding is planting spuds in tubs. Put 3cm soil in a large tub. Place a seed potato on the top and cover with soil. For the next few weeks, put all of your vegetable scraps etc. on top and use soil to keep the sprout under the surface. When you reach the top of the pot, continue to keep up the water. When the top dies off you are ready to harvest. Potatoes adapt well, and will grow small tubers along their length. Lovely little new potatoes.
At this point, upend the tub. You should have half a tub of potatoes and half a tub of compost.
Native to South America, potatoes are a part of the diet all over the world. The mild flavour lends itself to all types of dishes, and no self-respecting cook would attempt a home-made soup without adding at least one potato.
Potatoes can take the heat from a too-hot curry or the salt from a too-salty casserole. When it was kosher to smoke, a slice of potato in the tobacco pouch would save the tobacco from drying out. The water from boiling potatoes will clean silver, wood and leather. All of that, and they are still so very inexpensive.
It would seem that the humble spud has been the victim of dietary prejudice for long enough. Such a complete vegetable should be on our table every day, whether as a main meal or as an accompaniment. The local South Americans dubbed it the "Earth Apple" many years ago. Will we ever catch on?

750g potatoes
2 onions, grated
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (fresh is best)
2 tsps good chicken stock powder
2 beaten eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
good handful grated matured cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Peel, boil and mash the potatoes, adding the onion, salt, pepper, stock powder and nutmeg. Allow to cool, then stir in the eggs. Put in a casserole dish and top with the evaporated milk then sprinkle the cheese over. Bake at 160C for 30 minutes. Serves 6 as a side.

 3 large potatoes, sliced to 1/2 cm
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly
4 beaten eggs
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and add potatoes. Toss around for up to 20 minutes until cooked, adding the onion about halfway through. When cooked, drain off most of the oil (retain for later use - EVOO is gold!) then spread out in the pan. Pour over the eggs, parsley and seasoning. Allow to cook, shaking the pan often to keep it from sticking. When the omelette is semi-set on top, cover with a large plate and upend. (Use oven mitts!) Slide back into the cooking pan and complete the cooking. Serve with a green salad as main light meal. (Serves 2.)

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