Monday, 26 January 2009

Homage to the humble potato

I love potatoes. If my children or husband leaves any potato on their plates I will always eat them up! They are amazing things when you think of all the different things you can do with them.

After several years of trying out different varieties we have now settled on 3 that grow well on our plot and suit our culinary uses. Our first earlies are Sharpe's Express, our second earlies are Charlottes and our main crop is Kestrel. All three are surprisingly resistant to slugs, which is a definite essential requirement for us, and each has a degree of versatility in the kitchen. During the wet summer of 2008 all our potatoes and tomatoes were hit by blight. This is not an uncommon occurrence but it was earlier than usual and I was disappointed that I had to cut the haulms down so early on, fearing that they would not have had chance to develop a descent crop of spuds. At this time we had only started eating the first earlies but a few weeks later I was pleased to discover a reasonable crop of both Kestrel and Charlotte potatoes.

I dig up potatoes as and when I need to restock the cupboard, usually once a week, so there are potatoes left in the ground all through the winter. It's not ideal for a lot of reasons. This weekend I was down to the last few potatoes that needed digging up but after exerting a good deal of energy digging up 18 inch parsnips, plus harvesting beetroot for borscht I wasn't sure I could really be bothered to struggle with the sticky clay anymore. Fortunately, I had found a recipe for leek and potato pie that I really fancied trying and I really didn't have enough potatoes left indoors to make it.

So despite the cold and the sticky mud I stuck at it and dug the last of the Charlottes out of the ground. By this time some of the potatoes had been slug damaged to the point of just being an empty shell that crumpled as I dug, and any potatoes close to the surface had been frozen and thawed so many times that they were just a bag of squidgy goo. Nevertheless, despite blight, being left in the ground much too long and repeated bouts of frost, in the 3rd week in January I was still able to get half a bucket of edible potatoes.

The discovery of the pie recipe had been fortuitous timing because I had bought a block of puff pastry to make some sausage rolls with sausage meat I had frozen at Christmas time but I realised that I'd only need half the block for the amount of sausage meat I had. So back indoors I quickly whipped up a batch of sausage rolls then got stuck into modifying the pie recipe to make two large leek and potato pasties. I stuck an uncooked one in the fridge and the other in the freezer.

This lunchtime I cooked the pastie and what a lovely midday meal it made too. So much tastier and appetising than a ham sandwich!

Leek & Potato Pasties (makes 2)

1 large leek
Small knob of butter
2 medium potatoes
2 sprigs of thyme
Salt & pepper
A few chunks of mature Cheddar cheese
Half a block of ready made puff pastry
Beaten egg

Cut the leek into slices then fry with the butter on a low heat in a lidded pan for about 15 minutes until soft. In the meantime cut the potatoes into small chunks and par boil for 5 minutes until just beginning to soften. Drain the potatoes and remove the leeks from the heat then stir together in a bowl with the thyme and seasoning. Leave it to cool then add the chunks of cheese. Next, roll out the pastry into a square and cut it diagonally into two triangles. Divide the filling between the two triangles, brush the edges with the beaten egg and fold the triangle in half over the filling. Pinch the pastry edges together to seal. Brush egg over the top of the pastie to glaze. To cook, preheat an oven to 200°C then cook the pastie in the centre of the oven on a baking sheet for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

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