Our veg garden is currently getting over-excited, especially on the potato front. Some gluts can feel oppressive whilst others just give an extra dose of pleasure. I like broad beans, but faced with a couple of rows that need picking and eating rather immediately I feel a slightly worthy protestant pressure not to let all that beautiful growth go to waste. Last year the broad bean glut was solved by our friend Parker spending a whole day podding, blanching, peeling (not something I generally bother with – but he’d taken a year out from financial fraud investigation to do the Leith’s cookery course, so he had high broad bean standards) purreeing and freezing in meal-sized batches. This year the broad bean glut was solved by the bean failing to germinate.
However, just now we have a more delightful glut – potatoes. This year we’ve grown 2 rows of Charlottes and 2 of Pink Fir Apples and they’re both doing remarkably well. We started digging the Charlottes in July when they were the size of the dainty ones you buy in supermarkets. By the time we got back from holiday in the second week of August some of them were almost the size of small baking potatoes but still really delicious. Like Charlottes, Pink Fir Apples (which are just ready now) are known as a salad potato but they’re uses are much more various than just salads. Pink Fir Apples have a distinctive and delightful nutty taste and waxy texture and an engagingly ugly shape. Anyway both varieties are now at the point of peak taste and quantity so pretty much every meal we eat at home (including the occasional breakfast) features potatoes. Often I boil some potatoes, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and make a simple accompaniment to go with them. Recent successful accompaniments include:
- thickish sliced courgettes fried very thoroughly (about 20 minutes) with olive oil and plenty of garlic then tossed with diced tomatoes, basil and crumbled feta
- small diced courgettes fried quickly in butter and then bubbled for a couple of minutes with diced tomatoes, mustard and chopped ham (You may detect that we’ve got the beginnings of a courgette glut as well….)
A couple of days ago I tossed some warm Pink Fir Apples with peppery leaves, chopped smoked salmon trimmings and a simple vinaigrette. Unbelievably simple, quick and delicious.
I nearly always cook twice as many potatoes as I need to so that I’ve got the basis of a quick second meal. At lunchtime today we had potato cakes made with leftover potatoes, crisp-fried smoked bacon and a beaten egg (one per person), topped with a little grated cheddar. Incredibly quick and easy if you’ve got potatoes already cooked.
A slight elaboration on the bacon/potato/cheese combination in the form of a gratin provided perhaps our tastiest potato meal from this year’s harvest so far. Bacon, potatoes and cheese are possibly three of the tastiest things in the world, so it’s hard to go wrong if you put them all together. Various takes on this very Northern European trinity occur in Alpine cookery and appear on ski resort menus, but this version comes via Michaelhouse Café in Cambridge where our chef Lownz makes something similar but more creamy using Lincolnshire Poacher – now also regularly on the menu at All Saints.
At home, we ate the gratin with courgettes fried in olive oil and garlic and some raw yellow and red tomatoes thrown in with plenty of fresh basil at the end – a delicious and pretty accompaniment.
Bacon, potato and cheddar gratin
serves 6 very generously
1kg Charlotte potatoes, boiled until just cooked and cut into thick slices – or just halved if they’re small
300g smoked streaky bacon, diced about 1cm
1 dsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 dsp fresh thyme, stripped from the branches
salt and pepper
250g good cheddar, grated
100g parmesan, grated
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C or 180C without a fan. Fry the bacon until it’s crisp and the fat is running. Add the chopped herbs and stir well. Scrape all the bacon and all the fat into big bowl with the potatoes and mix well.
- Mix the two cheeses together and put half into the potato mixture. Season generously with salt and pepper, mix and check the seasoning, adjusting as necessary.
- Put into a big baking dish and top with the remainder of the cheese. Cook for about 35 minutes until the potato mix is piping hot and the top is nicely browned.
- Serve either at once or when you’ve finished your glass of wine.