With no sign of blight in the garden to date, and with so little else ready in the vegetable bed, I thought I’d see if I had any potatoes to enter into the Donhead St Mary Summer Show, vegetable class. I emptied one bag to find a measly offering, only enough for one single meal - probably the same weight as the original seed potatoes I planted in the spring. A dead loss. So I dug some up from the vegetable bed, which looked as if they were doing better. And what joy. Large creamy white tubers of Wilja potatoes. I adore newly dug potatoes like this and it’s potluck in my garden. It got me thinking how confusing this whole variety thing can be. I don’t know my waxy from my floury - new from old and mains from earlies. So off I go to the trusty Internet. It’s helped, so here’s a quick guide as to what is best for what.
Waxy potatoes (firm)
Recommended: - Marfona; Maris Peer; Nicola; Charlotte; Estima; Cara; Duke of York Firm, creamy potatoes. Great for baking and boiling as they keep their shape, especially good for salads - Not good for mashing as difficult to get smooth.
Floury potatoes (fluffy)
Recommended: - King Edwards; Maris Piper; Desiree; Rooster; Santé; Romano Good all-rounders, brighter and grainy. Best types for chipping, baking; roasting, layering (e.g.dauphinoise) and mashing. Not good for boiling as they fall apart.
Somewhere in the middle of waxy / floury
Recommended: - Wilja and Estima. These are the most popular types in terms of planting in the UK (especially now in Ludwell) - very versatile.
New/Salad potatoes (These are all ‘earlies’)
These are the best of young, immature potatoes harvested in early summer.
Recommended:- Maris Bard; Concorde; Premiere; Rocket; Pink Fir Apple; Charlotte. Usually boiled whole with the thin skin in tact, good sautéed or for salads.
That said, I return to my (now ‘prize winning’) potatoes, which I needed to use up. My family’s vote usually goes to the Frittata. I make this often to serve as finger foods, or to take on picnics or packed lunches as it is so easy. You can make a frittata out of almost anything. Fridge leftovers are the best, especially with mixed ends of cheese; cold sausages, vegetables or herbs but avoid tomatoes, as they are too wet. My sister makes a spectacular cauliflower and blue cheese frittata, so ‘anything goes’. Essentially it’s the eggs and potato that make it a Frittata.
I returned to the Internet to look up the difference between a Spanish Tortilla and an Italian Frittata. Well, the debate is a heated one, but from what I gather one is flipped or folded like an omelette, not always with potato (a Tortilla in my book) and the other cooked partly on the stovetop and then grilled or oven cooked and served ‘open-faced’. A Frittata. To avoid a barny in the village, I’m declaring them close relatives and sticking to a ‘frittata’ for this month's recipe. aif
Summer Pea and Mint Frittata (a close relative to the tortilla)
Serves 6-8 when using a deep 10” (25cm) frying pan.
Approx. £0.80 pp when all ingredients purchased at Ludwell Stores.
2 Medium white onions, thinly sliced
300 grams Cooked new/waxy potatoes cut into chunks e.g. Wilja
250 grams Medium Cheddar, grated (Feta adds a ‘tang’ and still good)
6-8 Fresh mint leaves, chopped
6 Medium eggs beaten
250 grams Frozen peas
2 tbls Olive oil
Oven 190C / Gas mark 7 / AGA roasting oven, grid on second shelf
1. Using a deep ovenproof frying pan with non-stick base, cook the sliced onion slowly in the olive oil until translucent and it starts to caramelize, but not fry. This may take up to 20 minutes.
2. Add the cooked cold potatoes. (Keep the skin on summer potatoes)
3. Cook for 10 minutes so the potatoes brown slightly, but don’t overcook (if you are using left over older potatoes, you shouldn’t let them fall apart, you want to see clear chunks of potato in this dish when cut)
4. Mix all but a small handful of the grated cheese with the mint and frozen peas (don’t thaw or cook the peas as you want them to stay bright green.)
5. Taking the pan off the heat, stir the cheese mix into the onion and potatoes until really well blended. It will look as if it won’t all fit in, but it will eventually.
6. On a low heat, keep the mix moving as the cheese melts and allow it to cook for a further 4-5 minutes. (If using feta or non melting type cheese, mix well without cooking further)
7. Mix the eggs well with the seasoning, lots of black pepper and salt, depending on the flavour and strength of your cheese.
8. Still on the heat, make little holes in your now fairly thick mix, pour the egg mix in slowly ensuring it goes right to the bottom of the pan and spreads across the whole frittata and not sit on the top (or it will look like an omelette and the bottom will fall apart on cutting). Mix carefully and well.
9. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese to which you can add pine-nuts and pop into a medium oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and firm but not too solid.
10. Allow to cool before cutting into wedges or little squares for finger food.
This is best served at room temperature or warmed slightly, with a salad.
NB. If you don’t have an ovenproof pan (i.e. your frying pan has a wooden or plastic handle), you can finish this frittata under a grill, not set too high, allowing it to set and turn golden, watching it very carefully.
If chilled, like all cheese/egg baked dishes, they can go a little sweaty in the fridge, therefore bring back to room temperature, preferably uncovered before serving.
A truly, truly scrumptious summer picnic or drinks party nibble.
With yet another rush to the head last summer, I offered to cook a celebration lunch for eight, as a ‘promise’ in aid of the Donhead St Mary fête. When the (very generous) winning bidder cashed this promise in, I was tasked with designing a simple three course menu that was special enough for a ‘Girlies' Celebration Lunch’, light enough for those who still had the school run to do, and most importantly, didn’t have me slaving over a hot stove for too many days beforehand. I believe I achieved the first two of these, although I was somewhat misguided about the latter.
‘Simple food’ is probably the sort I agonise over most. It is easier to have a disaster with a simple dish. That last little adjustment; too much fussing and tweaking and the invincible recipe that defies failure, but they still happen. I was determined none of my dishes would fit this description.
I arrived, reeking of organisation and cool confidence to find no one home. Heaven’s, it was today, wasn’t it? I let myself in and joined the dogs in the kitchen. To my great relief the hostess arrived from town, laden with flowers and wine. All was going to be fine as long as we could get rid of the dogs, which I caught eyeing up my creations.
The meal started with roasted figs, stuffed with a local cheese - Win Green from Cranborne Chase Cheese - deserved winner of the Gold award for British cheese 2009, available in Ludwell Stores. These were wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with balsamic vinegar before roasting for 8-10 minutes. I made some flowerpot bread with poppy seeds to mop up the warm juices, sliced, and then served back in their pots. Very rustic. Still trying to think ‘simple’ you notice. All okay so far.
To follow, they had poached chicken breasts with pistachio and parsley mousse on braised pearl barley with leeks, tarragon and lemon butter. Topped with sweet potato crisps (shaved length ways and deep fried) - they were bright orange - fantastic. Served together with a warm green bean salad. This was followed by an assortment of puddings, Orange Bavarois with rose petal shortbread; Fruit tarts with crème anglaise and Chocolate, hazelnut and cinnamon meringues with warm ‘Venezuelan Black’ 100% Cacao chocolate sauce, (from Willie’s Chocolate Factory recipe book).
The star of the meal was the ‘low-brow, truly simple peasant food’ - the braised pearl barley. It has real substance with fresh and deeply satisfying flavours. So here it is. If you choose to make this with hulled barley, whilst more nutritious, it may be a little chewy and will take longer to cook. I would stick with the pearled barley myself. Incidentally, there were no disasters although I broke my own rule about keeping it simple. Would you have noticed? Okay, …maybe. aif
Braised Pearl Barley with Leeks, Lemon and Tarragon (after Gary Rhodes) Serves 3-4 as an accompaniment / 2-3 as a main course Around £0.60p per portion, when all ingredients purchased at Ludwell Stores.
1 large onion, finely chopped
175 g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
900ml vegetable or chicken stock (Try Marigold stocks if not homemade)
1 leek, sliced finely
100g pearl barley – (best to give it a quick rinse)
1 teaspoon fresh chopped tarragon (try thyme or dill if preferred)
1-2 lemons; juice of…..(one is enough if large)
Glug of Marsala or sherry (optional, but adds a wonderful sweetness)
1. Cook the onion, without colouring but just softened, in 50g of butter.
2. Bring 600ml of your stock to the boil and add the leeks, cooking for 30 seconds only. Strain the leeks reserving both the stock and the leeks.
3. Add the rinsed pearl barley to the onions and cook gently for 2-3 minutes, stirring to coat the grains.
4. If using, add a glug of Marsala or sherry, and let it bubble, stirring for a further minute. (Breathing deeply to enjoy the vapours).
5. Add the hot stock that you cooked the leeks in. Cover the pot and simmer, stirring often, until the barley becomes tender and creamy – approx 30 – 40 minutes. (Up to 60 minutes if using hulled not pearled barley – this will be chewier but still good).
6. If, at this stage there is excess stock in your pan, pour this off into your remaining stock, of which you will have about 300mls.
7. Mix the remaining butter with the lemon juice and tarragon. (At this stage you can cool the barley mix and refrigerate everything, ready to finish before you serve)
8. To finish the barley, add a knob of your tarragon and lemon butter with all the leeks, and warm through, stirring vigorously to ‘froth-up’ a little.
9. Re-boil your remaining stock, reducing it by a third, then gradually whisk in knobs of the lemon and tarragon butter, until you have a smooth sauce consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Watch for salt content if you have used commercial stock cubes/powder).
10. Spoon the barley into the centre of warmed plates and pour the sauce around, before topping with roasted squash or mixed vegetables, grilled chicken or fish or a couple of Buttling’s award winning pork sausages, or simply enjoy as it is.
Once you have mixed the flavoured butter with the barley, it is not so great reheated, however if you must, just keep whisking it to stop the butter turning to oil, which would be horrid.
A truly, truly scrumptious, deeply satisfying dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.