For food blogger and allotment holder Danny (aka Food Urchin) nothing can beat the taste of a freshly grown potato. Share his enthusiasm in this post along with a recipe for a rather retro dish that makes the most of an early variety of new potato.
Out of all the produce that we grow down on the allotment, the single main crop that we go bonkers for are potatoes. At least a third of our plot, which is quite large, is usually given over to this fine tuber. And when I plant them out early in the spring, I am often greeted with bemusement and consternation from fellow owners.
“My my, you do like a potato don’t you.”
“Were your ancestors Irish by any chance?”
“Hmm, are you spud-culating on a decent harvest this year then?”
Yes, these are just some of the snarky comments I have received (seriously) from some of my older, more seasoned compatriots. The best I can normally do in the circumstances is to laugh along with them and join in the fun; otherwise I might feel tempted to launch a fork in their general direction. But to their credit, some of the ol’ farts do have point. The whole process of planting is fairly back-breaking after all. Having to dig out channels to house seed potatoes, all chitted and gnarly, and then mounding the rows up with earth to ensure that the new growing spuds remain protected from light is hard work. Bloody hard work. So there is a slight absurdity going on. Especially whenever I find myself collapsed on the main path afterwards with wheelbarrows trundling past my head. I closed my eyes once and after an unknown period of time, I woke up and found a cup of tea nestled next to my shoulder.
So why all the effort then? Well, I often praise and eulogise loudly about all the various vegetables and fruit that I grow but out of all of them, the taste of a freshly dug potato is something else altogether. I have yet to go as far as plucking them straight from the ground and taking a bite, which is something I am sure that Mr Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has done before. But a potato, especially an early variety such as Charlotte, unearthed from its underground den, scrubbed quickly under the tap and then simply boiled or steamed is hard to beat. They are so creamy, they are almost dreamy. OK, that sounds incredibly naff but sometimes it hard to convey the inherent beauty of a humble spud that you have nurtured and watered and grown with your fair hand.
If you have never grown a potato before, I urge you to try. At home, in your garden, on your patio, up on the balcony, or quite possibly on your windowsill (he says, stroking his chin). Potatoes can grow in a host of places after all; you just need compost, a container and a good source of sunlight. However, when it comes to harvesting them do be careful. A speared spud is a sorrowful sight, so lift them as gently as you can out of the soil. And don’t forget to pile up the fruit of your labour for everyone to see. I tend to make a point of doing this down at the allotment and will often sit beside the mountain of gorgeous starch afterwards in full view of the shuffling corduroy and beaten brogues. Sweaty profusely but smiling all the same, in my mind’s eye, I like to think that I look quite triumphant. But it is also quite possible that I look quite deranged. It’s hard to tell sometimes, the frowns under the peaked caps usually suggest the latter.
Having glorified the potato in all its simplicity, it seems sort of inappropriate to garishly dress it all up. Some detractors, with memories of school dinners, may even blanch at the prospect but in my opinion a Russian salad is a fun, retro recipe to try out. There are lots of different variations in fact and with this one, I have gone down the route of adding broad beans and tarragon. The two key factors to a successful Russian salad is making your own mayonnaise and trying not to overcook your vegetables. If they fluff and fur too much, the consistency will become something altogether unpalatable. Bread sticks are optional but great if you wish to serve this up at an Abigail’s Party theme….erm party.
Retro Russian Salad
500gm potatoes, diced
250gms carrots, diced
250gms broad beans, podded
1 tbs of chopped tarragon, leaves picked.
1 egg yolk
1 tbs lemon juice
250ml sunflower oil
Pinch of salt
First, make your mayonnaise by putting an egg yolk (make sure this is at room temperature) in a bowl and add a splash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Gently whisk together and then add the oil very slowly, a teaspoon or so at a time, until you have used about a quarter of the oil. Once it begins to emulsify, start pouring the oil in a steadier stream, whisking all the while until it becomes nice and thick. Whisk in the rest of the lemon juice and check for seasoning. Then place in the fridge for half an hour.
To cook your vegetables, bring a large pot of water to the boil on the hob and drop in your diced potatoes and carrots. Bring back to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes, adding your broad beans about 2 minutes into cooking. Drain and leave to cool. This is a faff but it’s worth picking the broad beans out and removing them out of the outer shells to reveal the verdant bean inside.
Once cool transfer to a bowl and add the mayonnaise. Combine lightly but thoroughly and then stick back in the fridge for another half an hour before serving.
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