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ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO, THREE POTATO

Call them spuds, tatties or taters, this marvellously versatile tuber is a staple of many a household.

The humble potato is the fourth largest food crop worldwide, slotting in after rice, wheat and maize, and is so nutritious that people can live off it for months at a time without having to supplement their diet with any other foods. In addition, it is cheap and tasty and forms a vital component of many of the world’s favourite foods!

What would life be without chips or a baked potato alongside your burger, steak or piece of battered fish? Then there are hash browns or rosti, mash with sausages or atop a cottage pie, wedges sprinkled with spice … The list goes on but there are a myriad ways to use the humble spud. But how much do we really know about this veggie that’s been part of life for centuries?

Potatoes were first cultivated in regions of South America between 5 000 and 8 000 BCE before spreading all over the globe to become one of the primary staple crops of many cultures and a favourite ingredient of global cuisines. Science came to the rescue and by means of genetic studies determined that this root vegetable originally came from the area around modern day Peru and Bolivia. Despite its ancient origins it’s only been in Europe since the mid-1500s when it returned with the Spanish explorers. It’s now a staple of many northern European cuisines.

A nasty fungus affected potato harvests around 1845, leading to massive crop failures and ultimately to the Great Irish Famine or the Great Hunger. It’s estimated that a million people died of starvation and another million left Ireland to seek a new start elsewhere in the world. Historical figures record that Ireland’s population fell by between 20 – 25% because of the famine and mass emigration.

Nowadays there are something like 5 000 different varieties of potato – and ever more inventive ways to use them. Did you know that mashed potato truffles are not only delicious but simple to make, requiring just four ingredients: leftover mash, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, and a coating of choice such as cocoa powder, finely chopped nuts or desiccated coconut. To make, place the chocolate chips in a small microwaveable bowl and melt in the microwave at 50% power. When they have melted, stir in the mash, add the vanilla and stir well. Place the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes and once firm, mould tablespoon-sized scoops with your hands, roll in your desired topping and refrigerate before serving.

Capsicum Culinary Studio alumnus Charmaine Lehabe, who now runs her own catering company – The Squared Experience – was recently voted one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans and Capsicum Cape Town student Imtiyaaz Hart have shared the following recipes.

 

DUCHESS POTATOES

Ingredients:

1 kg potatoes

1½ Tbsp kosher salt (½ Tbsp separate)

60 g Emmental cheese, finely grated

3 cloves garlic, minced

90 g unsalted butter (split in half)

45 ml fresh cream

4 large egg yolks

Pinch of ground black pepper

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 185ºC and line a baking tray with baking paper. Peel potatoes and cut into cubes. Place the potatoes and 1 Tbsp of the kosher salt in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are very soft and can be easily pierced with a fork. When the potatoes are ready, drain through a colander. Place the empty pot back over medium heat and add 45 g of butter. When the butter is melted, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the cream, the remaining ½ Tbsp kosher salt, and a pinch of black pepper and bring to a simmer then turn off the heat. Add the cooked potatoes and mash until smooth. Add the Emmental cheese and stir until melted.

Add 4 large egg yolks and vigorously stir until they are fully incorporated. Transfer the potatoes into a large piping bag fitted with a star tip (alternatively, add to a large zip-top bag with the corner cut off). Pipe the potatoes into swirls on the wax paper-lined baking tray, 5 cm apart. Place the remaining 45 g of butter in a small bowl and microwave in 10-second intervals until completely melted. Brush over the tops of the potatoes and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle over the chives and serve hot.

DECONSTRUCTED POTATO AND EGG CURRY

For the Potato Pavé

Ingredients:

1 kg russet potatoes

1 cup of heavy cream

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

Salt and pepper

For Frying:

2 sprigs of thyme

2 garlic cloves (crushed with skin on)

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Pour the heavy cream into a large bowl and add 1 tsp of salt and ½ tsp pepper. Wash and peel the potatoes, then place a mandolin slicer above the bowl of cream and slice the potatoes lengthwise into very thin pieces. If you do not have a mandolin slicer, slice the potatoes very thinly and drop them immediately into the cream to avoid browning. Brush the insides of a rectangular pan or loaf tin with half the softened butter, then brush the baking paper with the rest and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Start layering. Trim the potato slices so that they form an even layer on the base of the pan. Drop a few tiny cubes of butter and sprinkle salt and pepper over the base layer. Continue with the next layer by laying more potato slices in a direction that would best fill the pan. Continue layering, adding butter, salt and pepper after each two layers. Once completed, fold over the sides of the baking paper to cover the top and cover tightly with aluminium foil. Place into the oven and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until tender when pierced with a skewer. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Cut a piece of thick cardboard slightly smaller than the size of the pan. Wrap the cardboard in aluminium foil (for hygienic purposes) and place it on top of the pavé. Place some heavy jars/cans or other weights on top of the cardboard to apply pressure, making sure the weight is evenly distributed. Once cooled to room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

For the Curry

Ingredients:

1 red onion, diced small

1 cinnamon stick

2 tsp fennel seeds

2 Tbsp curry leaves

2 Tbsp roasted Cape Malay curry powder

1 Tbsp roasted hot masala

2 tsp ground cardamom (or 2 whole)

2 birds eye chillies, chopped

2 Tbsp crushed garlic

1 can chopped tomatoes

50 g tomato paste

2 tsp sugar

500ml stock/water

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Method:

Heat the oil and fry the onions with the whole spices. Add the garlic and chillies and sauté for a further minute before adding the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and roasted spices. Cook for 2 minutes and season to taste. Strain and add blocks of butter in a saucepan and mix well.

To assemble the dish, run a palette knife around the two longer sides of the pavé to release it from the pan, or invert onto a cutting surface. Trim all sides and cut into 12 equal pieces and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Heat canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes cut-side-down, add the thyme and the garlic, and cook, basting with the liquid in the pan, until browned on the first side, then turn carefully and brown the opposite side.

Serve with a poached egg and the curry sauce.

 

HERB-INFUSED STUFFED GNOCCHI

Ingredients:

700 g mashed potatoes
(about 4 medium sized
​​​​​​​russet potatoes)

2 large egg yolks

½ cup cake flour

½ cup bread flour

10 g chopped herb of choice (use basil)

125 g basil pesto

¼ cup cream cheese

A pinch of salt

Butter for frying

Method:

Boil the potatoes with the skin on until tender. While still hot, remove the skins and mash, making sure there are no lumps. Lay the potatoes on a floured work surface and spoon over the egg yolks and herbs evenly. Season and sift over the flour and gently start working it until a dough forms. Try not to overwork it as you don’t want it to develop too much gluten as this will result in a tough, chewy gnocchi. Portion and roll into a log. It should still be a bit sticky at this point. Flatten the log. Mix the cream cheese with 2 Tbsp basil pesto and pipe onto flattened log, then fold over and seal. Cut into cubes and poke the pockets with your finger to create a well for the sauce once cooked. Place in a pot of salted boiling water and allow to cook for 1 minute. They will rise to the surface once ready. In a pan, melt the butter and fry the gnocchi. It should be crispy so allow it to sit and caramelise. Toss in basil pesto and finish with seasoning.