Vegetable of the Week: Potatoes
The history of the humble potato, how to pick the right variety and a delicious roasted recipe
Each week plant-based cook Bettina Campolucci Bordi, founder of Bettina’s Kitchen, gives us the lowdown on a particular seasonal vegetable or ingredient, offering cooking tips and a recipe. This week it’s potatoes.
If you had asked me what my favourite food was as a child, nine times out of ten I would have replied mashed potato. We all have something of a love affair with the great spud and sales figures back this up. If we’re not chopping and frying them as chips, we are stuffing them as jacket potatoes, mashing them up or slicing and dicing them in any number of other imaginable ways.
Unfortunately they do have somewhat of a bad reputation as a carb – but I am going to completely disagree with that. I think they are amazingly comforting, versatile and absolutely delicious. As far as varieties go, my favourite is the almond potato. Almond potatoes are yellow or white, and oval shaped somewhat resembling an almond – hence the name. They are considered a delicacy in Norway and in Sweden and I always love eating them when visiting.
But let’s get back to the Great British spud. The potato arrived in England from Virginia, brought here by the colonists sent there in 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh. The potato was first planted by Sir Walter Raleigh on his estate of Youghall near Cork, and Gough says that it was cultivated in Ireland before its value was recognised in England.
What is surprising is that although there are around 500 varieties of potato in the UK, only about 80 varieties are grown commercially, so just a few are well known and available in Britain’s supermarkets.
Choosing the correct potato for your recipe ensures it will taste its best. Most potatoes fall into one of two categories: waxy or starchy. Waxy varieties hold their shape when cooked so they’re best in recipes where you want whole pieces, such as potato salad, stews, or when you’re roasting them. Most of the smooth, thin skinned, fall into this category.
In contrast, starchy potatoes collapse and turn fluffy when cooked – this is why they make incredible baked and mashed potatoes and work best in soups.
Potatoes are the epitome of comfort food: soft, hearty, and filling. Delicious on their own with minimal fuss and able to take on nearly any flavour without losing their identity, potatoes are a wonder. They’re also highly productive and dirt cheap, making them a staple of many cuisines. I love them in the form of a potato salad or simply roasted with some yummy dips. Sweet potatoes make delicious oven roasted fries: below I share my favourite recipe.
Recipe: Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Pea Smash
- 1-2 large sweet potatoes, cut lengthways into long wedges 1-2 tbsp olive oil for basting
- 3 tbsp Rawmesan (see below for recipe)
For the pea smash:
- 125g frozen peas
- 1/2 avocado
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 fresh chilli, sliced, or a pinch of chilli flakes
- Salt & pepper to taste
For the Rawmesan (makes 150g jar):
- 60g almond flour
- 60g unsalted hazelnuts (or buy toasted if you prefer)
- 1 tbsp salt
- Pinch of chilli flakes for the daring spice lovers (optional)
- 1 tsp nutritional yeast for the fully fledged vegans (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 200-220 degrees celsius (depending on how hot your oven is).
- Make the Rawmesan by pre-toasting the hazelnuts if not already pre-toasted, then crush in a pestle & mortar or whizz in a food processor or coffee grinder until you get a chunky consistency. Then simply mix the rest of the ingredients together and store in an airtight jar.
- Baste the sweet potato wedges with olive oil.
- Sprinkle Rawmesan over sweet potato wedges, to form a crust.
- Put in the oven for 30 mins until soft inside and crispy on the outside.
- For the pea smash, put all ingredients in a food processor or blender and gently pulse until well mixed but still with some chunky bits.
- Serve up the sweet potato wedges with the pea smash in a bowl for dipping.
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