It’s National Potato Day today. What do you mean, you didn’t know we have a National Potato Day?
Well, anyway we do. And I’m glad of it.
The thing about spuds is, unless I’m cooking a certain kind of meal involving meat/fish and two veg, which is rare enough, I don’t necessarily have spuds in the cupboard. But I always have rice of various colours, pasta of various shapes, and noodles of various sizes, plus numerous other grains including cous cous, bulghur and quinoa. What chance has the humble spud against such a battery of carbs?
But I like spuds. I like their variety of texture, from fluffy to creamy, and of subtle flavour and sometimes-not-so-subtle colour (blue potatoes anyone?). I like having a choice between steaming small new potatoes whose skin need nothing more than a rub or big, dirt-encrusted bakers all scrubbed up, scored with a cross and topped with a salty crown.
And I like their versatility. Besides all the usual sides of dreamy Dauphinoise, buttery champ, crunchy goose-golden roasties, crispy rostis, flavoured mash or maybe just plain, there’s seasonal squeaky Colcannon, traditional treats like shepherd’s pie. That’s before you consider all the unlikely ways spuds can turn up in various international cuisines, like those amazing potato and rosemary pizza slices from the Steps of Rome, or as the base for gnocchi dumplings (surprisingly easy to make from scratch). Or in Indian cooking, as in samosas or Bombay Pantry’s truly moorish batata vada (potato dumplings coated in mango powder). Or Thai jungle curry. Greek mousaka. Chilean empanadas. Kosher latkes. Spanish tortillas.
Then there’s all those wonderful things you can do with leftover spuds. One recent favourite involved steamed new potatoes cut into wedges and golden-fried in rapeseed oil with their skins still on together with some thickly sliced red onion and thinly sliced green chillies (the latter additions added towards the end), tossed with avocado cubes rolled in toasted seeds (I used Good4U Smart Seeds’ Sunflower mix but you could toast you own), topped with a fried egg and served for a home-style break-out brunch. Another was healthier but no less tasty: a smoked mackerel nicoise-style salad with chunks of chicory leaves, slices of caperberries, slivers of scallions, hunks of ripe tomato, halves of steamed spuds and a herbed yoghurt and olive oil dressing.
And I haven’t even mentioned potato cakes, fish cakes or crab cakes. Or chips, fries or wedges. Or potato salads, whether doused in a healthy vinaigrette, a devil-may-care mayonnaise, a compromise creme fraiche or even a tinned-tastic Russian salad-style dressing. Nor all the gorgeous things you can do with gratins of various persuasions. Nor crispy skins or hash browns. Nor boxty or bravas. Not even chowders, soups or stews.
I’m glad we have a National Potato Day, because we need reminding that spuds are worth encouraging back into our diet. If you’re still hungry for more ideas to get you going or for recipes to follow check out clever Aoife Cox’s clever blog www.thedailyspud.com. Or if you’d like reminding of why they’re as good for us as they taste, have a browse of Bord Bia’s www.potato.ie.
Recently I’ve gotten back into an abandoned habit of picking up some spuds in my weekly market shop, particularly if I happen to do it at Jenny McNally’s organic vegetable stall in Temple Bar’s Cow’s Lane on a Saturday or Dun Laoghaire’s People’s Park on a Sunday. (Jenny’s leaves are the best in town, and her eggs and yoghurt are pretty great too. Plus I got some great round courgettes from her recently which I stuffed and baked, but that’s another day’s posting.) Today I think I’ll make a trip to another of my favourite veg sellers, Evergreen on Wexford Street. I’ll be picking up some spuds, and thinking up something delicious to do with them. If you wanted to get adventurous, you could search out some particularly colourful specimens – Fallon & Byrne tend to have a great selection.
Whatever you do today, try to have a spud-happy August 25th.