Queens, roosters, piper maris, King Edwards – the sheer number of varieties of potatoes is a wonder. Oh yes, a Golden Wonder. (As you become more familiar with my style, you may realise that I find it very difficult to resist a pun. I promise to keep them to the minimum.)
Spuds and Irishness go hand in hand, we’ve mixtures of mashed potatoes with other vegetables that are uniquely Irish simply because the humble mash is arguably the pinnacle of comfort food.
Bowls of comfort for rainy weather include a quick stir fry of dark green cabbage strips, garlic and crumbled crispy bacon swirled through a helping of buttery mash. Another mash up of root vegetables that is traditionally Irish is mashed carrots and parsnips. This is a coarse country dish, so puréed carrots and parsnips aren’t quite the same thing. And adding mashed potato to this mixture may just blow your mind, but it’s worth risking.
Irish butter is traditionally salted. So adding a crumbled rasher will add even more and needs to be taken into consideration if you’re trying to cut down on salt. However, although it takes a little getting used to, replacing the butter with a tablespoon of olive oil, some Mediterranean herbs such as oregano and marjoram give an aromatic flavour to mashed potatoes and sautéed onions.
Having been raised on salted butter, for me, the quintessential Irish mash has a generous knob of butter, a drop of milk to smooth out the mixture and some freshly ground black pepper.
Potato cakes for the George Forman that have an incredible marriage of goo and crunch are comprised of mashed potatoes, quarter-inch pieces of cheese and chopped, cooked onions. Bunch fistfuls of this mixture into patties and either griddle on a normal pan or pop onto your George Forman grill and you’ve got rounds of potato cakes that are great on their own or as an accompaniment to meat or fish. (You’ll need to give some cleaning TLC to your grill afterwards to peel off the melted cheese drips, but again – soooo worth it.)
But my favourite mash potato side dish are these croqettes that are excellent for using up leftover brown bread that’s gone a little stale, and the crumbs and pine nuts add fibre (and fat, it must be said) to the potato mix.
three fist-sized Rooster potatoes, two parsnips, two tablespoons of pine nuts, two slices of wholemeal sodabread, seasoning to taste. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Boil and mash potatoes and parsnips as usual. Mix together the mashed potatoes and parsnip and season to taste. Whizz two tablespoons of pine nuts and a couple of slices of wholegrain brown bread in a blender. Roll parsnip and potato mixture into two-inch thick cylinders and when you've finished the batch (using up all your mash) sprinkle the pine nut/crumb mixture over your chopping board. Roll the cylinders in the crumbs to coat them evenly. Reduce oven to 200 and bake croquettes for 15 mins or until crisp.
It’s worth noting that these freeze very well. However, defrosting them so that they retain their shape means that you never defrost them in a microwave. You’ve to let them thaw by themselves and either grill or bake them to get the crunchy coating.