In these days, when you just can’t make it out to the shops, a few simple, key items in your kitchen cupboards can open the door to thrifty but delicious meals and a well-stocked pantry is the key to turning out delicious meals even when the fridge is looking bleak.
Basic staples like potatoes can be an endless source of inspiration and they are nutritious, and when cooked without fat, healthy, high in energy-giving carbohydrate and low in calories. They are a fantastic ingredient for any cook as they are so versatile and can be cooked in so many different ways; they are also a great vehicle for absorbing loads of other flavours in soups and stews.
It's strange to think that potatoes were by no means an instant success in the western world; they were thought to have originated in Chile when prehistoric tribes took them to the Andes region of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. The potato had been cultivated for centuries in South America before the Spanish conquistadors arrived and took them back to Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, although sir Francis Drake is credited with discovering them in Chile and bringing them back to England in 1577.
By the 18th century potatoes were still excluded from the great French tables and were thought to cause leprosy. In England the puritans distrusted them, as the humble potato was not mentioned in the bible, although it had become an important crop for the masses. The chemist Antoine August Parmentier was imprisoned in Prussia and fed nothing but potatoes during the seven years war. He returned to a starving France and set up soup kitchens in Paris to assist the poor. He went on to champion the use of potatoes and did much for their popularity throughout Europe.
I find crisp, baby like, new potatoes with thin, wispy skins and a crisp, waxy texture hard to resist. They are absolutely delicious when simply boiled and drizzled with a little butter or olive oil and sea salt. New potatoes, unlike their fully grown counterparts, keep their shape once cooked and cut. They are also sweeter because their sugar has not yet converted into starch, and are therefore particularly suited to salads. Alternatively, roast the potatoes whole with olive oil, garlic cloves and fresh rosemary, the end result is more like dozens of rich, delicious mini baked potatoes!
Choose new potatoes that are firm, dry and blemish-free. Unwashed potatoes last longer as the dirt protects them from bruising and general deterioration. You really don't need to peel new potatoes; just rinse to remove any dirt and cook whole. When boiling new potatoes always start them in cold water, as they tend to toughen when dropped into boiling water and add a good pinch of salt. For something a little more unusual, try “papas Arrugadas” from the Canary Islands.
ROASTED NEW POTATOES WITH ALI-OLI
Ingredients: serves 4
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 200ml olive oil
- 2 egg yolks
- Juice of half a lemon
- a few drops of water
- 400g new potatoes
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
Toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Spread the seasoned potatoes across a baking dish. Bake for about 45 minutes, shaking the baking dish after 20 minutes to flip the potatoes.
Crush garlic, egg yolks & salt to a fine paste; add olive oil slowly stirring continuously until the sauce thickens. Add lemon juice and a few drops of water, season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the potatoes with chopped chives and serve with aioli.
This is an unusual way to cook tiny, new potatoes from The Canary Islands and although they look as wrinkly as Mick Jagger on a bad day, they do taste a lot better than they look.
Ingredients: serves 6-8
- 2kl new potatoes
- 1.5l water
- 250g coarse sea salt
Clean well the potatoes, leaving the skin on. Place them in a saucepan and cover them with the water and salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are just cooked. Drain the potatoes and return to the same saucepan with no liquid. Place them over a moderate heat and turn them over 2 or 3 times. The salt will stick to the potatoes and they will become "wrinkly". Serve with mojo picon.
- 6 garlic cloves
- 350ml olive oil
- 100ml sherry vinegar
- 1tspn ground cumin
- 2 red chilli peppers (de-seeded)
- 2tspn paprika
- Pinch of Sea salt
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a smooth paste. Place in an airtight container and chill until required.
SIMPLE NEW POTATO SALAD
Ingredients: serves 8
- 1kg New Potatoes from Sa Pobla
- 4 tbsp mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
- 8 Gerkins (cornichons), chopped
- 1 tbsp capers, drained
- 4tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Bring the potatoes to the boil in a large pan of salted water, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, oil and lemon juice in a large bowl.
Drain the potatoes, reserving 2 tbsp cooking liquid and leave to steam for a couple of minutes. Halve the warm potatoes and add to the mayonnaise mixture with the reserved cooking water. Toss to combine then stir in the remaining ingredients. Season to taste and serve warm.