I Love potatoes. When I was twelve years old I was taken to a wedding by my parents. I don’t remember who got married, but I DO remember the reception repast, especially the accompanying vegetables in their giant silver tureens, piled high with the softest mashed potatoes imaginable, and the sweetest buttered peas.
Everything else about that historic wedding remains a blur, yet those mashed potatoes and peas have stayed with me, forever! I discovered during my big, fat wedding binge that cold mashed potatoes and peas, sprinkled generously with salt, white pepper and vinegar was the best thing I had ever eaten in my life (at twelve years old I was very easily pleased). In fact, I think I devoured at least three tureens all by myself. I became an eating machine and just couldn’t stop. Relatives gasped in amazement, encouraging me as I munched my way through a mountain of warm mash and an epiphany of peas.
To this very day, I still have a kind of ‘thing’ about potatoes, in all their glorious forms and skins. And since living here in Mallorca I have discovered some of the very best. I also discovered that they have a potato dish, very similar to my wedding concoction, which heralds from Andalusia in mainland Spain, called ‘papas aliñás’. This popular speciality, eaten cold, is a perfect tapa recipe to enjoy with all your other little dishes at any tapa feast, and so easy to prepare.
For 2 people - take 2 or 3 medium potatoes, peel and boil until cooked. Meanwhile, chop 1 small onion very finely and ¼ green pepper. Put onion and pepper in a bowl together with 2 tbsp sherry vinegar and leave to marinate for 30 mins. When the potatoes are cool, put them in another bowl, crush slightly and drizzle with a little virgin olive oil to taste. Not too much. We are not after a puree or mash but a textured crush. Add the chopped onion and green pepper along with all the marinade and mix well to combine. The potatoes will break up even more. Season with salt and white pepper then sprinkle with some pimenton and finely chopped parsley.
This recipe is best served cold. However the fridge has a negative effect on the flavour of these potatoes so leave to cool completely or bring to room temperature from fridge. The traditional way to eat ‘papas aliñás’ is together with some tuna in olive oil dressed with a little chopped egg on top.
Sa Pobla, the spiritual shrine of spuds, is renowned in Majorca for its potato production, exporting a five star harvest far and wide. In fact, Sa Pobla is Spain’s largest exporter of potatoes, with a soil so fertile it can produce three crops per year without any need for rotation. Now that’s an interesting fact, or not depending on your mind set!
‘The Miracle of the Land’ is what the locals call it, And lucky for us, they keep some of these ‘miracles’ on the back of their lorries for locals and aficionados on the island to enjoy. Only a simple potato, but the taste and textures are as varied as the earth from which they spring. Sa Pobla potatoes are some of the best I have ever tasted.
When I first came to visit the island almost thirty years ago, one of the first local dishes I sampled was ‘ensaladilla’ or Russian salad, another potato dish served here as a ‘tapa’, and famously part of their traditional ‘variadas’, the holy tapa trinity of meatballs, pica pica and potato salad.
An ensaladilla is as varied and diverse as the ‘masterchef’ who is preparing it. No two recipes are alike, and that’s what makes this simple salad so unique and interesting. At its worst it’s just potatoes and mayonnaise. At its best it is a culinary delight involving carrots, peas, beans, red peppers, capers, olives, boiled egg and tuna! Served with fresh, crusty bread it suddenly becomes one of the best accompaniments for almost any Majorcan meal. Locals serve it as a side dish on a daily basis. And leftovers in the fridge make the best midnight snack ever. I can’t vouch for that as in our house it never sits around long enough!
Being a potato pundit, I love all the ‘ensaladilla’ variations, but possibly my favourite version (apart from the original) is one I first sampled in Sevilla, and now make myself regularly at home. A simple potato and chopped egg ensaladilla mingled silkily with succulent prawns. I add a few peas to mine in homage to my big, fat potato wedding. The prawn salad in Sevilla was served as a generous portion for four yet I ate most of it myself. Not a pig, I might add, just addicted!
At home, one of my favourite ways of cooking potatoes has become legendary amongst friends who want a quick, yet tasty snack. It started off jokingly called ‘chip and egg’, but depending on what you serve them with, Peter’s Potatoes can be easily elevated to ‘simple sophistication’ and served with anything.
Take whatever large potatoes you have, leave in their skins but wash/scrub clean. Prick with a fork then microwave on high for about 5-8 minutes until almost cooked through (test with a knife). When cool enough to handle, slice across into thick slices about a finger width measure, then sauté in a little olive oil and butter ( not too much ). Cook and turn until crisp and golden. Serve immediately with fried eggs! You can’t imagine how tasty these tatties are until you try them.
The little crispy bits of skin are divine. I also like them just as they are dipped in aioli or a quick patatas bravas sauce. Loosen 2 tbsp mayonnaise with a little olive oil and water. Add 2 tbsp passata or 1tbsp tomato puree. Stir in 1 level tsp cumin powder, ½ tsp of garlic powder and ½ tsp onion powder. Then add a good pinch of smoked paprika, a splash of vinegar and a few drops of Tabasco sauce depending on how spicy you like it. Now dip in those potatoes and tell me you’re not in heaven. I told you I was addicted! Enjoy!!!